BOOK REVIEW: THE LOST ART OF RUNNING BY SHANE BENZIE
Firstly, welcome to my first ever blog post! I do, sincerely, thank you so much for finding your way here… I also sincerely, hope it’s not too crap! Here goes!
I first came across Shane’s name and his emerging expertise (and quite frankly, obsession) with running with good form (or more accurately an obsession with Human Movement) and “elasticity” a few years ago, but as Shane’s name has become ever more a feature on social media, in various running articles, magazines and working with some top runners around the world, I have started to hear more and more about him and his studies. It was from reading local (local to me anyway) ultra running legend, tea-warrior and self-confessed record-botherer, Damian Hall’s excellent book, In It for the Long Run, that spurred me to seek out more of Shane’s knowledge which led me to his new (ish) book, The Lost Art of Running: A Journey to Rediscover the Forgotten Essence of Human Movement (I listened to it on Audible but it’s available from most good book retailers).
The book is made of 3 parts which all seamlessly refer back to one another in a really nice flowing way making it an enjoyable reading experience. It starts with his journey, documenting how he got started by studying Bio-Mechanics in the USA with runners on a Dreadmill (errrm, I mean Treadmill!) and quickly realising that a) Bio-Mechanics is a word to be used with a degree of caution because humans are not machines and therefore, in reality, do not move in a mechanical way… and b) that a treadmill in a laboratory is not the best way to study the movement of a runner since the belt of the treadmill moves for the runner, rather than outside where the runner moves along the ground! Makes perfect sense when you think about it really! As result, Shane takes his studies outside and all around the world, studying the movement of thousands of runners in places such as the mountains of Iten, Kenya where some of the very best athletes in the world are coached by the legendary Brother Colm, the Marathon Du Sables (one of the hardest races in the world, mostly on the sand in the searing desert heat!) and various ultras around the world, to name a few. Shane gives some excellent accounts of his experiences and there are some detailed accounts given by other top runners in major races around the world.
The 2nd part of the book is about the Foundations of his findings and we hear more about Tensegrity, a word I vaguely remember from physics in school and now cannot get out of my head since reading the book!!. Tensegrity is a key theme in his book and teachings, particularly in relation to the Fascia in the body (another very key theme to the book) and its role in creating elasticity which we need to run with good technique, but to also harness what Shane calls “free energy” in the body to enable us to run more efficiently, vis a vis using less muscular energy and strength to run faster/further and more of that elasticity to run faster/further!
The 3rd part, The Practical, is where it gets really quite exciting as Shane walks us through the various areas of the body and how anyone can go away and apply his findings to their own running, whilst also being weary of common mistakes and pitfalls when trying to correct form. Shane gives us some quite striking examples of the effects of running with bad form too… I personally can’t now get it out of my mind, how for each 1-inch of the head leaning further forward than it should be, is the equivalent of adding an extra 12 lbs of weight on to your next!!! Imagine you lean your head forward 3 inches more than you should, that’s the equivalent weight of a small child bearing down on your neck!! Mind blown!
I could go on all day about this book but don’t want to give too much away as it is quite an exciting read, both from the “how can I improve my own running” angle, but also if you enjoy hearing about races around the world and great storytelling about the history of how and why humans run then this is going to be right up your Strada! I have read a ton of books about running form and technique but Shane’s message is quite different to others. He comes at it from a very different angle, very much backed by science and study, but more about running with fluidity and “beautiful human movement”, rather than most books that talk about our movement in a machine-like way and force and vectors and such. I personally found it much more relatable and easier to understand his delivery than some of the more sciency books out there and hence, I believe any runner could easily listen to/read this book without being bamboozled by it!
Why did I choose this as my first blog post? Well, I have myself, since starting the book and since finishing it been really applying some of Shane’s advice to my own running. I didn’t run with poor form myself, but stride length improvement has been an area I have wanted to work on for some time, so I have been making that investment by taking Shane’s interesting theories on harnessing ground impact (rather than trying to reduce it) and increasing my vertical oscillation (flight time) whilst still maintaining good cadence… I must say I have started to see and even feel the improvement in my running dynamics and data… the proof is in the pudding, as they say!
A book I would highly recommend to runners of all abilities and, if you asked me to describe it in one word, I would say I found this book…
Fascia-nating!! (You’ll get what I mean when you read it!)