Book Review: YOU (Only faster) by Greg McMillan

McMillan Cover

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It should come as no surprise that I read a lot of books, particularly training books, because I gain a lot of new ideas for myself and eventually my athletes. In fact, this is not uncommon among good coaches and helps your training philosophy and methods evolve; new coaches can learn a lot here, and as the saying goes, “Fake it until you make it!”. So, when I was given an opportunity to read Greg McMillan‘s book, YOU (ONLY FASTER)I dove in, polishing off the 250 pages in about a week. To say I like this book would be an understatement, especially in comparison with dozens of other books I’ve read, some of which range from garbage (Smart Marathon Training) to impractical for the average runner (Lore of Running), but also out-dated yet relevant books (Greg Lemond’s book) and my benchmark book, The Science of Winning. My review will target largely the strengths of book, but also put the criticisms made about the book into perspective.

I believe it is always important to note a couple items with my reviews. First, many of my review are positive, and they are for good reason; no company likes really bad reviews and harsh criticism can lead to a shortage of products to talk about. However, that alone would not be sufficient a reason. The main reason is I request specific products and books based on interest and expectation. I seek out things I expect to be good and usually get it right, but in the case of Smart Marathon Training, I got it seriously wrong! I prefer to put pro’s and con’s into perspective and let people decide. Second, this is still a free podcast and blog, so its important to highlight people and companies doing things well, and hopefully they’ll return the favor. Whether you agree with this approach is up to you, but considering the time and effort that goes into this endeavor, its the best way to do business for me right now. All that aside, I never recommend something I would not buy or advise my friends to buy! With that, here’s my review in about 500 words.

Best known for his free online running pace calculator, Greg McMillan is one of the top running coaches in the U.S. One needs only look at his athlete list and the coaches he’s worked with – probably most of the best, to know he’s got the know how. Greg’s also an applied science guy, which I like, and he’s willing to share his knowledge, which many U.S. coaches will not. In You (Only faster), Greg takes training and turns it into a cookbook that the beginner can understand, and the experienced can capitalize on. He puts his training plans right up front starting on page 15. The plans are very basic and easy to follow, like any recipe on the back of a cake mix box. And like those recipes, they’ll satisfy the masses, but win few awards. The strength of this book is not those plans, but Greg’s step-by-step process to modify those, or any plan. In this respect it really is a cookbook on how to customize recipes, blending science and experience with a developing coaching intuition.  In brief, the book flows like this:

  1. Select a plan, even if it’s some other coaches plan and set a goal.
  2. Perform a Personal Running Evaluation (PRE) to determine what type of runner you are.
  3. Establish training phases, zones and workouts; made easy using his running calculator.
  4. Ideas for adjusting your plan
  5. 10 rules of running

Table of Contents

So as not pull too much from the book or my interview with Greg, I will skip over number 1, and touch on number 2. In a word the PRE is brilliant! It’s something I’ve done for many years, but never as cleanly or as simple to apply to the average person. The PRE is also applicable and should be used for other sports, like cycling and triathlon, particularly for folks who are limited on time. The fact is that there are many ways to train, but your individual response to the training will ultimately determine how successful you are. I’ve seen this countless times in cycling with riders (and coaches) who just pile on the miles in a vain attempt to elicit improvement. It is a wholly ignorant approach to training and reflects a misunderstanding of physiology. The PRE helps you determine if you are better at high endurance (i.e., aerobic) loads – an ENDURANCE MONSTER, or perhaps better at shorter, more explosive training – a SPEEDSTER, or perhaps some combination. By taking an honest look here, you’re able to custom tailor your training plan, and Greg shows you how with hand-written examples.

Plans Work plan

Once you complete your PRE and make initial adjustments to your plan, coach McMillan walks you through all the other areas of individualizing that program including establishing run paces and reviewing training zones. This latter aspect is one of the best applications to training zones I’ve seen, because it takes what many coaches attempt to present as literal quantities, and turns zones in abstract qualities, or, training outcome objectives. Simply put, you train for endurance, stamina, speed, or sprint (power). Clean, easy and simple, these four training zones house numerous training possibilities and leave behind complicated made up energy systems or abilities; sorry, but 10 training zones is utter nonsense and are really just representing types of workouts. The book winds down by covering when to race, expanding existing plans and numerous workout suggestions. Greg even gives you the typical mainstream book content with his 10 Rules of Running.

As you can see, I like this book for what it is, and acknowledge what it is not. This is NOT a bible of complex physiology (there is a little in there) or a bible, like Daniels running or Lore of Running Lore, both of which are not well suited to the average runners. If this is your expectation, then look elsewhere. Further, if you want a book that will tell you exactly what to do without any though, the internet offers lot’s of free options. This book is by far one of the best cookbook training books I’ve read/reviewed across all sports. Its simple, easy to follow, and gives the average person great insight into how to modify any running program. I would recommend this book to any new or experienced runner trying to devise the best plan for themselves, but also to coaches looking for new ideas on cracking the individuality code of athletes.

 

 

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