Why We Run has been on my bookshelf for years. I "borrowed it" from my grandmother and haven't returned it to Maine. I picked it up this week because I've been contemplating a return to racing (my last race was Twin Cities Marathon in October 2017). I've had some much needed time away from running, but I've been slowly returning to the sport.
I have entire shelves packed with running books, and Why We Run is nowhere near my favorite. That said, I like parts of it. Heinrich is a professor in the biology department at the University of Vermont. He knows a lot about animals and a lot about running. The last two chapters of the book describe Heinrich's training for the 100 km National Championships (he ran up to 140 miles per week). This part of the book is exciting and beautifully written. Overall though, Why We Run feels like an outdated take on the sport (especially in relation to women in competition). It was published almost 20 years ago (Heinrich was 60 at the time). In a section describing why men are better suited to fast running than women, Heinrich writes: "When women do run as fast and far as men (as many can), they likely do so at a reproductive cost. They must lose so much body fat that ovulation ceases."
There's a lot wrong with this statement. While it's fair to say that many female runners struggle with amenorrhea / female athlete triad, it is not fair to say that women can only be fast "at a reproductive cost." It's just false. If you run 100 miles per week and take in enough calories (that's a lot of calories), you will continue to get your period and likely beat many male athletes. Many of America's fastest women get a regular period. Amenorrhea is not a sign of fitness or speed (**you don't need to stop getting your period to be fast**). There's also plenty of evidence that male marathoners tend to have decreased sperm counts due to lower levels of testosterone. Generally, endurance running tends to reduce semen quality. Men sometimes get fast "at a reproductive cost." Heinrich doesn't mention it.
There are other lines like this throughout the book that bother me. I blame this on the fact that the book was written 20 years ago, by a 60 year old man. There's another piece of this book that I struggled with though: long, dense sections (with many diagrams) describing the anatomy of birds and insects. I understand why these pieces are included. Perhaps I was just not in the mood. Biology majors / insect lovers will enjoy this section more.
If you're a runner, this is worth reading. You'll really enjoy parts of it (maybe just skip to the last two chapters). I don't feel at all confident that non-runners will enjoy this book. Perhaps one of you will prove me wrong.