Book review – Don’t run yourself down

2012-05-25 12:48

Tim Noakes has my spinning instructor up the wall.

His endorsement of a high-protein and fat diet for athletic performance – which means low or no carbs, veggies and fruit – doesn’t sit well with vegans like her.

Still, many people who like the idea of losing weight while pigging out on meat and butter will vote him a hero.

Noakes, who has been called a “gentle iconoclast” and a “loose cannon” in various stages of his career, has always been a bit controversial.

A chapter on his latest theories around the high-protein diet was recently included in his book, Challenging Beliefs, subtitled “memoirs” of his career as a sports doctor.

What caught my interest was the bit on the back about him running the Comrades Marathon.

Although his description of running for a silver medal left a relative plodder like me far behind, I could identify with him saying “the common bond that links all Comrades runners is the need to take the paths less travelled, to go against the common stream, to search for the unattainable” and finally to accept their fate – as he has enthusiastically done with his calling as sports doctor.

He also writes about how he warned, years before people would listen, about drinking too much water when running (yes, it is possible and a few runners have died) and the “propaganda” by sports drink companies that sold runners more liquid than they needed.

He also explained how much of the performance of sportspeople is in the mind, which he calls “the central governor”.

“It’s not about your body,” he says.

This is the reason people can go on even though they think they can’t.

It’s because the mind sets itself an exercise target (such as the finish line) and produces symptoms of fatigue according to its calculation, which means you may think you are at the end of your energy when this isn’t necessarily true.

His theory also explains the mystery – at least to runners – of why you feel like you can’t carry on about two-thirds through any race, whether it be a standard marathon (42.2km) or a Comrades (near 90km).

Runners and couch potatoes alike would benefit from the chapter titled The Power of the Mind.

In it Noakes tells of John Landy, the second man on record to run the mile in under 4 minutes.

He believed it was beyond him, until the first man, Roger Bannister, who believed he could, broke through the 4-minute barrier.

Noakes also writes about making rugby safer and about the science of cricket, but those bits interested me less.

Whatever you choose to believe about Noakes’s theories, the mind stuff is so inspiring that you’ll be damned if you don’t heed it.

This book has changed the way I think about the Comrades, for one.

» Du Plessis will be running her third Comrades next Sunday

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