Running in the Midpack: Book Review

Note: The publishers gave me a copy of Running the Midpack for this review. All thoughts are my own. 

When the publishers of Running in the Midpack: How to be a strong, successful and happy runner by Martin Yelling and Anji Andrews asked if I’d like a copy of the book, I was all over it.

I love the premise of this book – I’m a middle of the pack runner who coaches middle of the pack runners, so on paper, it’s perfect. But the more I thought about it, the more I found myself getting ready to hate this book.

All too often in popular running media:

  • “Improvement” = getting faster
  • Training and goal setting = entirely focused on setting a PR
  • Being a slower (or average) runner is an issue to be addressed ASAP, or slower (or average) runners are condescended to, patted on the head, and told to just make peace with being slow.

I rarely see my own place in the running world reflected in the running media: I’m a slow(ish) experienced runner, but my pace isn’t how I define myself. While I always want to improve, I don’t tie that improvement to a single metric like pace or finish time.

I was ready to put up a fight with this book before I read a single page.

I needn’t have worried.

Big Picture Thoughts

Overall, I really liked this book. It didn’t take me long to realize my concerns about its focus were misplaced.

It’s aimed squarely at runners who have advanced past beginning running books that focus on the logistics of running like selecting shoes and running a first 5k.

It’s for runners who have run a few races and want to ‘get better’ but who don’t necessarily need that improvement to be focused on pace.

This Sounds Familiar…

It’s not lost on me that soooo much of this book echos blog posts I’ve written and ideas I repeat over and over (and over). Maybe that’s why I liked it so much.

The book’s chapters are:

  1. The Midpack Runner
  2. Pychology
  3. Whole Body Health
  4. Training
  5. Nutrition
  6. Race Day

The order of these chapters says a lot. The authors start with your identity as a runner, then move on to the mental aspects of running, then to all the non-running stuff that comes with being a runner.

It isn’t until chapter 4 (nearly halfway through the book) that it specifically focuses on running.

Spoiler alert: much of what ‘getting better’ means as a midpack runner isn’t about running. It’s about mindset, mental training, and the non-running stuff like sleep and strength training.

The Book’s Biggest Challenge

The biggest issue this book faces in presenting its content is there is no single ‘right way’ to do things and no single ‘best’ approach.

As a running blogger myself, I know this challenge first hand – there is no way to address the very individualized needs, motivations, and weaknesses of every runner.

If you’re looking for a quick fix, you won’t find it in this book.

In each chapter, the authors give you information and a bunch of stuff to think about, then leave it to you to consider how that information applies to you and your personal strengths and weaknesses.

To get the most out of this book, you can’t be a passive reader.

You can’t just grab a cookie cutter training plan or nutrition regimen out of the book (because they aren’t there). The authors present the pieces that go into a well-rounded training plan or nutrition regimen, and leave it to the reader to determine what parts apply to them.

I am 100% on board with this being the right approach, but it may disappoint anyone who wants to read a book and be given the answers that will make them an immediately better runner.

Chapter by Chapter

The Midpack Runner

I got this book while I was volunteering as a coach for my running club’s (virtual for 2020) marathon training program. When I told the trainees about the book, the #1 question they asked was ‘How do they define a midpack runner?’

This first chapter answers that question and discusses midpack runners: How we find ourselves there, our motivations, and how we move through the midpack depending on our life or our training.

Random notes from this chapter

Psychology

I love that the authors put the mental issues of running ahead of any physical issues. By doing so, they acknowledge something I strongly believe: the biggest running challenge most runners face stem from mental issues like lack of confidence and motivation, not from any physical issue.

This chapter reviews mental areas where runners may struggle (confidence, anxiety, goals, social media pressures), and then discuss how those issues can be identified and addressed.

This chapter is a prime example of how this book will lay out the information for you, but the only way you’ll get results is if you read it, then spend the time to consider how the issues discussed appear in your running life.

Random notes from this chapter

  • I enjoyed their discussion of ‘vicarious confidence’ (when you see someone who is like you doing something you want to do, their confidence rubs off on you). I hadn’t heard this term before, but it perfectly describes why I love spectating and volunteering at races as much as I do (An idea I talk about in in the post Why Your Running Story Matters)
  • They focus on setting process goals (running X times a week) not outcome goals (running a 30 minute 5k) (That sounds familiar)

Whole Body Health

Once again, the authors focus on the positive impact non-running elements (sleep, rest, strength work, general conditioning, prehab) will have on your running.

Here’s a wacky idea- don’t wait for your body to break to give it some love.

Random notes from this chapter

Training

In this chapter, the authors finally get to the running specific information: Training is what ties together your goals and aspirations with what you actually do.

This chapter reviews the key concepts of training and developing a training plan:

  • The importance of the consistency, overload, progression and rest cycle
  • Types of pace (easy/ tempo/ threshold)
  • Types of runs (fartlek/ interval/ hill)
  • Lingo (aerobic v. anaerobic/ running economy/ VO2)

While they present a good plain-English overview of the concepts, it left me feeling “…What now?” While it’s good to understand the difference between your tempo and threshold pace, if you’re creating your own training plan, the information is too high level to be terribly helpful.

In my opinion, this information is best for runners who want to:

  • Understand why an off-the-shelf training plan is structured the way it is, or
  • Are taking an off-the-shelf plan and adjusting it to fit their individual needs

Random notes from this chapter

  • When creating a training plan, create a ‘training budget:’ consider how much time, physical energy, emotional energy, and money you can spend
  • The authors suggest a few specific workouts for runners training for different events (5k,10, half, marathon). I found these workouts very doable, even for someone like me who hates overly prescriptive track workouts.
  • While the book is pretty high level overall, they got oddly specific in the section on heart rate training. Not sure why that section got so much attention and detail.

Nutrition

Going in, this is the section I was most curious about since I know it’s my personal weak spot. It’s also where I was the most disappointed.

The chapter starts with a long list of caveats: the authors aren’t nutritionists, nutritional guidance can be wobbly and conflicting. They then say there’s no single ‘right diet,’ and the only way to know what’s best for you is to test out a bunch of stuff and see what works.

While I know this is 100% correct, and I understand the challenge of writing on a topic where the right answer is ‘only you know what works best for you,’ I again was left feeling like I got a lot of good information, but I’m not entirely sure what to do with it.

Nutrition has so many different facets for runners: general nutrition in life, nutrition while in training, fueling while on the run, fueling for recovery, fueling immediately before a race. A general overview of the role of carbs v. protein doesn’t help me much.

Random notes from this chapter

  • I liked that the authors stressed having a positive relationship between exercising and eating. Runners so often get into a mindset of rewarding workouts with food, or feeling like we have to run to justify meals (my #1 complaint about the marketing of many Turkey Trots). I’m fully behind discussing the emotional and psychological impact of food for runners.

Race Day

This book is distance agnostic: the ideas can be used for a 5k or a marathon. I like this chapter a lot and it’s not lost on me that it has the most overlap with my own blog content:

Random notes from this chapter

  • I like the way they define the taper – running less to achieve more when it matters.

 

In Summary

Again and again in this book the authors stress (and I couldn’t agree more):

  • When considering your running, look at all your running achievements, not just your pace or finish times. Acknowledge your great workouts, doing your best, and celebrating other runners.
  • Trust the process and don’t expect progress to be linear

 

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