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"Sprint" Triathlon
A "sprint" triathlon is a 750-meter (0.47-mile) swim, a 20-km bike, and 5-km run.

Everyone's Guide to Distance Running

Author: Williamson N
Category: Sports Performance
Audience: Elite Athlete
Length: 436 pages
Publisher: Lyons Press
  Year Published: 2004
List Price: $16.95® Rating: Worth A Look

Everyone's Guide to Distance Running is a resource for distance runners...from beginners to experienced.

Target Audience: Distance runners who want to improve their performance.


Norrie Williamson is an accomplished distance runner and coach. He is a former Scottish rugby player who transformed into a runner and coach in South Africa. He has completed more than 100 ultra-distance events, including the grueling 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa. He began his running career in 1981 and has been coaching and writing about running since 1985. Williamson's formal education is as a structural and civil engineer.


This 436-page book is organized as follows:


  • Chapter 1: There is no Finish Line!
  • Chapter 2: The Magic of Distance
  • Chapter 3: Understanding the Life of a Distance Runner
  • Chapter 4: Distance Running - Your Long-Term Prospects


  • Chapter 5: Understanding the Basic Principles of Training
  • Chapter 6: Planning and Goal-Setting
  • Chapter 7: The Components of a Training Programme
  • Chapter 8: Supplementary Activities and Cross-Training
  • Chapter 9: The Different Phases of Training
  • Chapter 10: Seasonal Training
  • Chapter 11: Why Everyone Needs a "Coach"
  • Chapter 12: Keeping Track - Logging the Miles
  • Chapter 13: Running on Lower Mileage
  • Chapter 14: Coping With the Environment
  • Chapter 15: Triathlon Training


  • Chapter 16: Tapering to Reach a Peak
  • Chapter 17: It's Not Just the Training...It's Being Prepared!
  • Chapter 18: Mental Approach


  • Chapter 19: Everyday Nutrition
  • Chapter 20: The Role of Sports Nutrition
  • Chapter 21: The Role of Training - Getting Into the Swing of Things
  • Chapter 22: Energy Production During Exercise
  • Chapter 23: Good Eating Habits to Maximize the Effect of Training
  • Chapter 24: The Minefield of Sports Supplements
  • Chapter 25: Before the Event!
  • Chapter 26: Optimum Fluid Loading
  • Chapter 27: During the Event
  • Chapter 28: After Event Use
  • Chapter 29: After Training
  • Chapter 30: Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation
  • Chapter 31: Additional Performance Aids
  • Chapter 32: Sorting Out the Quality Supplements
  • Chapter 33: Drugs
  • Chapter 34: Nandrolene - Are Innocent People Being Banned?
  • Chapter 35: Weight Loss


  • Chapter 36: Things Can and Do Go Wrong!
  • Chapter 37: Equipment - Necessities and Niceties
  • Chapter 38: Heart-Rate Monitors and Monitoring
  • Chapter 39: Keeping Pace with Technology
  • Chapter 40: The Problems of Being a World-Class Athlete
  • Chapter 41: Children's Development and Distance Running
  • Chapter 42: The Sport Evolves
  • Chapter 43: Training Schedules


Don't be intimidated by the number of chapters...some chapters are only 2-4 pages long. But, because there are so many, I'm not going to review each chapter specifically. Instead, here are some comments:

Arguably, this book is longer than it needs to be. Nevertheless, it's easy to read and the chapters and discussions are not verbose. Each chapter provides a boxed section that highlights the key points of that chapter. This is helpful.

Training Advice

• VO2max: In Chapter 7, the author explains VO2max. He points out the important concept that it's not only an athlete's VO2max value that predicts success. Rather, the ability to sustain the highest percent of that VO2max during a race is what matters (p. 76-77). This is a good discussion, however, the author doesn't list the VO2max values for any of the many elite athletes he describes. Nor does he tell the reader how, when, and where to obtain a VO2max assessment.

Throughout this book, the author presents endless advice and recommendations as if they are dogma. Certainly, he is an established athlete and coach, but supporting these statements with research data would make this advice more credible. For example:

• Cross-Training: On p. 112, the author reports that American sprinter Carl Lewis admitted he didn't do weight-training. Instead, he did plyometric jumps. Intuitively, this training technique seems logical for improving performance in the long jump, but Lewis is not a distance runner so using him as an example of how to train doesn't seem very relevant for this book. On p. 115, the author describes how Comrades Marathon winner Gordon Baker trained by doing a lot of cycling in lieu of running while preparing for that race and his victory, then, justifies why cross-training is a good idea. Maybe cycling training was the reason why Baker won the race. Or, maybe it had nothing to do with it.

Anecdotal examples like these are acceptable to introduce a training concept. But, recommending these concepts should be supported by research evidence, or, at least a before-and-after comparison of what an athlete or team did and how that improved their performance.

• Stretching: On p. 103, the author does quote a research study that states that runners who stretched prior to the Hawaii Ironman had more injuries than runners who stretched after that race. This is somewhat helpful, but cannot be interpreted without more details: Did the injured runners have a faster finish time (ie., did more injuries occur in runners who competed harder?) What was the average age of each group of athletes? (ie., were the injured runners older?)...etc. The author doesn't cite the publication so we have no way to investigate this further. But, at least, here is an example of using some facts to justify a training principle. This book needs more of that.

Nutrition Advice

Within the various chapters that provide nutrition advice, it does seem that the author makes a better attempt to cite research supporting some of his statements. However, some recommendations are simply presented as "this is what you should do":

In Chapter 27 (p. 285), the author provides a table of 3 different strategies for supplementing calorie intake during the Comrades Marathon. It seems completely arbitrary. Why not tell us what 9-time winner Bruce Fordyce consumed? Williamson has also finished the Comrades Marathon. Why not tell us exactly what he consumed? This table doesn't provide enough detail to be useful: Instead of specifying the grams of carbohydrates that should be consumed at specific time points, the author simply lists "gel or carbo drink." At other times, he lists "meal replacement."

Other nutrition recommendations are simply false:

• Caffeine: The author states that caffeine is a diuretic and can cause dehydration (p. 265-267). However, this was thoroughly debunked years before this book was published (Graham TE. Sports Medicine 2001;31:785-807.).

Advice on Drugs and Dietary Supplements

• Ginger: In Chapter 36 (p. 341), he endorses the herbal supplement Zinaxin as useful for managing muscle soreness. It contains ginger, and perhaps other ingredients. The author states that Carl Lewis recommended it to him, and, that "research over 9 years has proven it to be as effective as ibuprofen" however, no references to these studies are provided.

Other Recommendations

• Acupuncture: In Chapter 36 (p. 342-343), Williamson endorses acupuncture and states: "Does it work? I believe it does". His opinion here illustrates how the placebo effect can fool people. A 2009 study showed that poking the skin with toothpicks was just as effective in people with low back pain as traditional acupuncture (Cherkin DC, et al. Arch Intern Med 2009;169:858-866.)

Other details:

Documentation / Accuracy: This is not a scientific book, though several research papers are mentioned in various chapters. However, it is not always possible to track down these citations due to incomplete details. In Chapter 34, the author discusses the anabolic steroid nandrolone. Several research papers are cited. However, again, there are not enough details. Also, the title of this chapter misspells this drug as "Nandrolene".

Photos & Illustrations: A substantial number of black-and-white photos appear throughout the book. These enhance the reading.

Tables & Graphs: Lots of tables are provided...especially in Chapter 43. Generally, these are well done, though, in some instances, very small text on a dark gray background is hard to read. Several graphs appear throughout the book. These enhance the reader's understanding of various concepts.

What I Liked About This Book

If nothing else, this book is comprehensive. The author writes about distance running from every perspective.

What Could Be Better

The author makes a lot of dogmatic statements and recommendations. These would have better impact if he cited research supporting these statements.


Everyone's Guide to Distance Running contains a ton of information, advice, and recommendations. It is essentially an encyclopedia for distance runners. It addresses not only training concepts, but, also, nutrition, sports supplements, heart-rate monitors, running gear, and more.

The question is: how reliable are these recommendations? The author's "habits" and "beliefs" are no substitute for science-based advice. Certainly, some of the information in this book is useful. But the average reader will have difficulty identifying which recommendations are sound and which ones are not. There are better distance running books available. Here are two:

  • "Fast Track - Training and Nutrition Secrets from America's Top Female Runner" (2004) by Suzy Favor Hamilton and Jose Antonio, PhD
  • "High-Performance Training for Sports" (2014) by David Joyce, MS, and Daniel Lewindon, MS

Reviewed by: Stan Reents, PharmD 8/10/2020 2:16:28 PM

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