REVIEWS: Books of the Great (and not so…)

My stay on the desert island of Lanzarote was not all sporting fun and frolics with Club La Santa. I also had a bit of time to catch up on my reading and could dig into a series of running books once I had finished my book on the Mongols during the inflight.

Cross-Country Running

by Jeff Galloway

I had some hopes for this book having been disappointed with both cross-country books I had bought up to this point. So far only Lydiard’s chapter on cross-country in “Running with Lydiard” has done this great discipline justice.

Sadly, Galloway stays true to form producing another glossy high-end production with little substance and with far too many references to “for more on this buy my other book…”.

When you see a chapter in a cross-country book about hill-training you would expect a detailed chapter on how to master this wide and important area for cross-country. What you get is two pages of bullet points with information you would have been hard-pressed not to work out on your own. Where is the expert guidance? Who prioritised this?

The drills are likewise disappointing being merely standard sprinting drills that have been known for the last forty odd years with new fancy names attached to them (“acceleration gliders”, uh?). Advice on race strategies and mental toughness are borderline offensive to the intellect of the reader and the less I comment on what the “Galloway Run-Walk Method” is doing in a cross-country book the better.

The picture are nice and suggest a book for the elites, yet all the advice is for novices (and not that great advice at that either). Mysteriously, 1 mile, 2 mile and 5k programs make their way into the book when certainly there’s enough productions on this and proper look at the varying nature of cross-country races would have been more helpful.

Cross-country still awaits its seminal work, but until it get’s it, you can safely refer to “Running with Lydiard”. The book leaves me with a lot of questions unanswered, one of which is which table I could steady with the half-inch width of Galloway’s book.

Verdict: 0/5 (a worthless effort)

Bowerman and the Men of Oregon

by Kenny Moore

When I put down this book, I was awe-struck but it’s epic scope taking me from the early Bowerman families settling of Oregon through half a century of Olympics, the growth of Nike out of nowhere, the tragic life and death of Steve Prefontaine and an athletic history of the athletic side of the University of Oregon. Interweaving the tale is the eighty-eight years that our planet was lucky enough to have the genius of William Bowerman.

Authenticity and writing of the best quality permeates the pages courtesy of Kenny Moore, himself one of the Men of Oregon, and writer of the script for the excellent film “Without Limits” on the Steve Prefontaine. When the film was show to Bill, he simply said: “That is how it was, that is how it was with the Men of Oregon” and had he lived to read this book, one imagines it would have warranted a similar reaction.

Athlete,coach, farmer, inventor, entrepreneur, benefactor, politician, Nike co-founder, the tale reveals all the many hats Bill wore next to his favourite cowboy hat. Throughout he encounters the great men and events of our sport: his losing battle against Lydiard’s athletes, his heroic intervention at the Munich Olympics, a causal chat with Sebastian Coe and his tutelage of many of America’s greatest such as Otis Davis, Bill Dellinger, Burleson, Roscoe Divine, and “Pre”.

As the story unfolds you see parts of the early days of both Adidas, Nike and ASICS (in the form of Onitsuka’s “Tigers”), Bowermen faces off against the Germans in Italy with the Tenth Mountain Division, with the insufferable bureaucrats of the AAU and the awesome might of Lydiard-inspired Lasse Viren. Plenty of personal tragedy and triumph of the Bowerman family is also recounted along with an intriguing point of view on the death of Prefontaine neither of which I’ll spoil for the reader here apart from saying few chapters in running biographies have carried the poignancy and emotional impact as the chapter dealing with Pre’s untimely death.

We face questions when looking at Bowerman’s coaching practices which included pranks and practises that would have gotten him fired at any modern university, yet as it was, it created an eternal bond between him and his athletes, one based partly on this great “immortal message” from the latter parts of the book:

“keeping vivid both the story of Pre and the truths that Bowerman held to be vital –namely, that we are all physical entities, that we all have the ability to get better (some of us a lot better), but to do that we have to accept our limits at any given moment and work within them. Great coaches are great because they see and help transcend those limit. If that is not an immortal message, it should be.”

Verdict: 5/5 (I could not think of anything bad to say about this great book)

Next up I will review !Running with Lydiard” and “A Cold Clear Day” – the athletic biography of the late Buddy Edelen.