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You (Only Faster) by Greg McMillan – Book Review


you_onlyfaster_mcmillanThe blurb for YOU (Only Faster) seems to point this book squarely in the direction of road racing and shorter distance runners. If you are a die-hard trail and ultrarunner or fall into the anti-speedwork camp, don’t let that be a deterrent to reading this book. Author and running coach Greg McMillan does only discuss training in a track and road racing context, but the content of this book is very applicable to ultrarunners as well.

In fact, You (Only Faster), isn’t really about setting a 10k PR or running a BQ marathon time, or even just running faster. The actual core message of the book is about how to be your own best coach. And the information contained within does an amazing job of explaining how to accomplish just that.

At some point, every runner has found a training plan online or in a running-related book, printed it out and tried to follow it exactly as it is written. Often, any deviation from that plan is seen as a failure, without taking any other factors into account. What this book aims to do is to teach you to take one of those cookie-cutter training plans and learn how to adjust it to meet your own needs, strengths and weaknesses.

The book is broken down into bite-sized chapters (some are only a page or two long), and almost each chapter contains one of the basic MacMillan training plans. What differentiates this book from other running books is that every time these plans appear, days are scratched out, and adjustments and notes fill the margins in an effort to demonstrate the best way to customize the book’s plans (or any others you might use) to your specific circumstances.

Since our lives and race plans don’t perfectly mold to the typical 12, 16 or 24 week training plans, You (Only Faster) also devotes a lot of content on how to add, subtract or substitute different modules into your training schedule. Whether it’s building a mileage base, hill training or increasing stamina, the book quickly marches through how to customize your plan to meet your specific training goal.

McMillan also recommends taking a few other factors into account when planning and adjusting your training, like:

  • what are you accomplishing with each day’s training?
  • what type of runner are you?
  • what is your personal response, recovery and adaptation to training?
  • what zone should you be training in each day?

Another great thing about this book is how well it describes some of the more complex running terms like VO2 max, oxygen consumption, lactate threshold, etc. Instead of pages and pages describing each term, McMillan quickly lays out the core concept and how it applies to training. If you’ve heard these terms, but aren’t familiar with how they impact your training, this book does an excellent job of explaining just that. (The concepts are also presented in sidebars, making it easy to skip over should you wish to do so).

Training zones are also described in the same manner. Workouts for each training zones are listed along with the pace ranges, physiological and psychological benefits for each zone. The different examples of speed, stamina and endurance workouts throughout the book offer almost unlimited variations for training runs, while specifically describing the benefit of each different kind.

McMillan links to his Running Calculator website throughout the book as well. This calculator’s purpose is to help a runner predict their times across various race distances (from 400 meters to 100 miles). And while this might not be as accurate for trail and ultra runners due to the highly variable terrain, it is valuable for another reason. Using this calculator, a person can input their goal race time and then look at the “training paces” tab, which will list out a range of paces for each different training zone. McMillan emphasizes that most runners go too fast on their easy runs and too slow on their hard workouts. These paces help eliminate some of guesswork as to how fast (or slow) to train.

The line that best encompasses YOU (Only Faster) is, “each and every [training] run must have a purpose and you should know it.” The book does an amazing job of teaching the reader how to do exactly that. With easy to digest chapters, this small book is packed with information and completely free of filler content. Any runner, from a weekend warrior, to Boston Qualifying hopeful to a 100M ultramarathoner can find something valuable in this book and come away with a better understanding of how to be their own best coach.

And who knows, you might just set a few new PRs along the way too.

– Brett Oblack

About the author

Brett Oblack Brett Oblack found himself unable to run a quarter of a mile without gasping for air. He then trained for races from the 5k to the marathon which solidified an obsession with running. Brett's love of the Southwest landscape led him to trail-running, ultra-running and climbing. For more information on Brett, check out the About page where you can check out his personal blog.

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