Smart Running by Jen and Sim Benson

Smart Running by Jen and Sim Benson

Smart Running by Jen and Sim Benson professes to be the ‘ultimate guide’ for runners hoping to become fitter, stronger and more confident. This book certainly attempts to comprehensively cover as many of these aspects of running as possible. 

The authors both have strong provenance in running and writing about running, having articles published in numerous magazines including Runners World as well as writing books on the subjects of wild running and adventure. A RunUltra review of their previous book “Wild Running: Britain’s 200 Greatest Trail Runs” is available here.

Smart Running delves into the varying science behind all areas of running – including physiology, psychology, nutrition and training – all separated into easily navigable and bite-sized chunks of research and information. The book itself looks and feels great; it is set out so that if you want to read about any particular subject, you can find the page immediately. There are also highlighted paragraphs dotted throughout which tend to summarise the main points for each chapter. This is, however, a very text-heavy book, as you would expect, with pictures limited to the few explanatory strength and mobility exercises in the final chapter.

The intentions of this book to comprehensively cover pretty much every aspect of endurance running (it does not particularly cater to sprinters), means that it cannot go as in depth into certain areas as I would have hoped (ie barefoot running), however it does as good a job as possible in discussing areas of running that might not always be considered. There is a very positive section specific to female runners and their physiology including pregnancy, the menstrual cycle and the menopause. As a coach to runners who have experienced all of these, the more information available to me is always highly valued. All the information is supported by mostly recent scientific studies with a full bibliography at the back of the book.

One area of the book I believe would be very useful to many readers is the section showing how to create your own training plans. As the book says: “it’s easy to find generic training plans[…] but this one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for everyone”. This section lays out the reasoning behind then plans and allows you to build a unique plan that’s not only specific to you but much more suitable and beneficial than a stock online plan or one ripped out of an old copy of Runner’s World.

The authors go a long way not to patronise the reader in this book. This could have been very easy as they have clearly put a huge amount of work into researching and understanding all of the elements in this book. 

On more than one occasion, I found myself nodding along to the book, both with the information provided but also by the opinions of the authors. Knowing that they have both been through the running experiences of training, racing, recovering and everything in between gave me the confidence that they were well qualified to provide such advice.

There were also certain areas of the book that I found incredibly interesting and new information to me, especially in the biomechanics and physiology section, that prompted me to independently research further. I think these sections of deeper study really elevate the book above just being a glossary of running terminology. 

I found that, on a couple of occasions in the book, it was refreshing to see the authors questioning the effectiveness of current trends (ie cold water immersion) without condescending but giving the reader the opportunity to make their own minds up. 

Even though I learnt a lot from reading this book and imagine will return to it for information to assist my own running and coaching, my concern is that I’m not 100% sure who this book is particularly for. The information can be incredibly detailed, possibly too much for any new or casual runner, and readers could get bogged down on learning about complicated aspects of running which aren’t necessarily beneficial to their running at the time. This book would, however, be incredibly useful for anyone looking to complete their UK Athletics leader or coaching badges.

In summary, I would categorise this akin to a running-specific textbook for runners who are further into their running journeys and looking to either improve their running or, more specifically, learn and understand more about the hows and whys of running.

This book will happily sit on a bookshelf and be there to answer questions that might pop up in your mind while out on the road or trail and it will surely give you more insight and confidence in the answer than any search engine; it just might not be suitable for everyone. 

Buy Smart Running here

About the author: Oliver Clarke is an England Athletics Qualified Endurance Coach in Running Fitness and has been coaching athletes of all abilities for nearly a decade. He currently coaches online as Swift Run Coaching. He successfully organised a Couch to 5k programme over the last 5 years that has that produced over 200 graduates and also coaches athletes of all abilities including over marathon and ultramarathon distance.

Running America by Jamie McDonald
Running America by Jamie McDonald
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"This book will happily sit on a bookshelf and be there to answer questions that might pop up in your mind while out on the road or trail and it will surely give you more insight and confidence in the answer than any search engine"

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