Run Simple: A Minimalist Approach to Fitness and Well Being Book Review

I’ll endeavor to keep this review of Run Simple: A Minimalist Approach to Fitness and Well-Being succinct as writing much about a book embracing simplicity is ironic.

Background on Author Duncan Larkin

Run Simple - book review

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In the early to mid-2000s, Run Simple author Duncan Larkin kept a blog called Roads, Mills, Laps in which he waxed eloquent about running, philosophy, history, American culture, and the merging of these subjects inside his noggin’. (A website by the Roads, Mills, Laps name is still kept by Larkin as his hub for all things authorial, but those blogging jewels of yore are no longer online.) Larkin wrote about suffering through speed workouts, creepsters he encountered during runs, running for hours with no water or food, historical figures he wished would come alive, the future of McMansion America, and more. The quality of his writing was as high as it gets, so I reeled with excitement whenever Larkin queued up a new post.

In 2010, Larkin wrote Oxygen Debt (my review), a fictional running novel. That story read as what I imagine it would be like to watch a reality show about a psychiatric ward full of runners. I simultaneously wanted to look away so that I would spare the characters their (fictional) dignity and to keep reading so that I could find out precisely how (fictionally) insane they were. Oxygen Debt scared the pants off me — I worry there are people in this world as wonky as the book’s characters — and I remained hooked on Larkin’s writing.

Larkin’s been a freelance writer for a while, and last summer he started writing for iRunFar.

The Run-Down on Run Simple

He has now authored into the totally new-for-him genre of how-to manuals with Run Simple. Larkin argues with this book that running is the basic act of propelling oneself across the Earth and that we do not need to complexify it with convoluted workouts, strange dietary choices, music players, gym memberships, and heart-rate monitors. Like an onion, Larkin uses his and others’ running experience to deconstruct our sport to its core.

Larkin proffers lots of advice on how to simplify our relationship with running:

  • He says the first step is to recognize that the power to be a runner/better runner rests within our anatomy, not within something we purchase.
  • The human body generates much feedback when we run. If we listen to these signals instead of using technology to mask and ignore them, we will become more intuitive runners.
  • A simplified running schedule can generate better results because it may allow you to run more consistently and without injury.
  • Runners should to do a couple extra, non-running exercises to address muscle imbalances generated by running and to keep the core strong. These exercises don’t need to be done in a gym, though.
  • Eat real, clean food. Not crappy stuff that’s been refined two million times. Just a lot of fruit, vegetables, and protein.
  • You don’t need expensive running gadgets and clothing. There are perfectly good options without exorbitant price tags.
  • Invest intellectually in race day. Plan for its details so your race stays simple.
  • Try not to play head games. A runner is a runner is a runner and you are one. Larkin offers wisdom on dealing with the games that can arise in runners’ minds.

Also, Larkin calls upon the experience of several elite runners who take stripped-down approaches to running and racing, including Toby Tanser, Lauren Fleshman, Anton Krupicka, and Brad Hudson. Each of these runners is a living example of how running success can be achieved through running simple.

My Take

So, was there anything left of running when I shut the book’s back cover? Yes, the desire to put on a pair of shoes and run forever. Full confession, Larkin is preaching to the choir in me. I am far more interested in how running takes me to beautiful places and puts me in the company of like-minded people than I am in the technicalities of the sport.

Like Larkin, I am afraid of heart-rate monitors and almost as wary of GPS devices. Wearing them, I feel like I’m in The Hunger Games and someone’s about to sic a liger on me. My body gives me plain-as-day feedback on what shoes it does and doesn’t like, so shoe experimentation can be akin to stuffing round pegs into square holes. I like lots of quiet, so music playing from earbuds for too long makes me want to chuck myself off a cliff. I wear running shoes and clothing long after people have started to make fun of me for something looking tattered or “so 2006.”

To be clear, this is not a book about running barefoot or being unprepared for the variables one could encounter over the course of, say, a long mountain run. Larkin is neither for nor against barefooting/wearing minimalist shoes; he says to wear the shoes that work for your feet and not your buddy Joe’s or what the shoe reviewer in a magazine says is good stuff. And Larkin sure wants you to dress and carry exactly what you need for a healthy, happy run; he just wants you to remember that it’s your legs and heart that will make you a better runner rather than what’s in your pack.

Are there any downsides to running simple, I wonder? The only plausible one I see is that, by simplifying the kinds of workouts one does, one may be losing fitness gains that could come from workout diversity. I think Larkin banks on the fact that happier running is often more successful running and that removing some workout diversity may allow someone to run more consistently and without injury. I’ll let you be the judge on whether this is a possible downside for you.

I’m headed out for my afternoon run shortly. It’s a recovery week for me, so today I’ll run a couple flat, slow miles. I know the route well and I don’t care my pace, so I’ll leave the watch at home. It’s a chilly October day, so I will need a pair of tights and a jacket. I’ve got the trusty shoes I always wear; they look a little worse for the wear but they run well. I’ve got my head, legs, lungs, and heart fully attached and ready to go, though my quadriceps are still tired from a recent race. I’m taking with me one more thing, a thought from Larkin in Run Simple, “Running may seem like a complex activity; it’s not… Keep at it.”

Call for Comments and a Giveaway

[Contest Closed] We’re giving away three copies of Run Simple! This is a book about going simple, going “old school.” To enter the contest, leave a comment in the comments section of this post by November 12 at 11:59 Mountain Time, answering the following: What’s one simple/minimalist/old-school thing you’ve done with your running that’s led to success or a breakthrough? The three best comments we choose will win a copy of Run Simple.
Here are the three winning comments.
Kristin
i just run. sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, lots of times up and down hills, in the mountains as often as i can. i love the ups, tolerate the downs, and don’t enjoy the track at all (so i don’t run around them). I seek to do my best in races, but when the best isn’t a PR, i find ways to be happy with the performance i gave that day. then there’s yoga, ultimate, toddler walks, and alllll the other things… :)
Trail Clown
If you give me a copy of the book, I will renounce my blog name (Trail Clown) and simply post comments under my real name. I know everyone is tired of the nickname and the comments that go with it. If that is not enough incentive to give someone a free book, I don’t know what is!
And if you need a real, serious excuse, I definitely went old school this past year. I gave up my sponsorships (Nike,McDonalds, etc.), my coaches (I am now coached by a pantheon of gods), my toe shoes (I now run on cinder blocks tied with organic string), my gadgets (no more watch, I use a sundial taped to my chest) and my bad diet (I only eat unrefined weeds from my garden). I still fly to races, but I only fly on Fed Ex cargo planes, sitting between boxes.
-Charlie M.
Jeremy
One thing that I have done to simplify my running is to smile. I know that sounds a little strange but I remember always running when I was a kid and I loved it. It never hurt or felt awkward it simply felt joyful and free. Now as I run, I smile and bring back those feelings. When there are boulders in the trail instead of following the path around like most people I adjust my stride so I can leap off the top like a kid would. Since I have started smiling and stopped worrying so much about everything else they have become easier and more joyful. When I get home I have a perma smile and I have had many more of “That run was totally AWESOME” type moments!!
Meghan Hicks

is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.