Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Quick Book Review: Why We Run by Bernd Heinrich

Bernd Heinrich is an Ultra runner. A good one. He has held a number of records, mostly after he tuned 40. He is also a Ph.D in biology. His book is basically a story of his running life, more specifically a buildup toward his 100km record run in Chicago in 1981, intersperced with scientific information about endurance in various species, from the Hawk moth and the honey bee to the camel and, obviously, humans. He expands on how/why humans eventually developed the ability to do what he calls persistence hunting: the ability to run a prey to exhaustion.

One of the points Heinrich believes is key in explaining why humans evolved to be able to run such long distances is our ability to see the future in our mind's eye. Most animals just give up the chase after a few miles. Humans can maintain their focus over extended periods of time and keep their eye on the prize for as long as it takes.

I read the book in one day. I have to admit I seep read some of the finer details of how the honey bee maintains its internal temperature, but as a whole the book was very interesting. His attack on the world record was deliberate and mostly based on what he knew about endurance in animals. He knew a lot. You constantly have to remind yourself that this happened in 1980, before Gatorade and Gu even existed.

This book reinforces the fact that running is something we are born to do. Racing is basically a playful re-enactment of the hunt and this is something that comes from deep within us.

Another point Heinrich emphasizes is the fact that running is not all about VO2Max. Yes, our performance is ultimately limited by genetics, but for most people, the limiting factor is the mind. Before you reach your physical limits, you need to overcome many obstacles, most of them mental. You need to decide to train. You need to want to compete. You need to set goals that are realistic, yet help you go beyond what you know you can do. You need to plan your race, not just hope for the best. During the race, we all know what we have to deal with in ultras.

So all in all, a good read. Two thumbs up.

"You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up."

General George S. Patton
1912 Olympian, Modern Pentathlon

1 comment:

Derrick said...

Interesting sounding book and one that's not in our library or that I've even heard of. Thanks for the tip!