By Jonathan Gault
August 9, 2018
One thing that is clear from reading Racing the Hands of Time: Running, Training, and Racing through the Stages of Life is that the author, Larry Hannon, has a tremendous passion for the sport of running. The purpose of the book is to share what Hannon, who ran at DIII Messiah (Penn.) College and later coached at DIII Delaware Valley College, has learned from his career in running, with the hope that it will inspire readers to make running a lifelong pursuit.
“Perhaps more than any other sport in the world running has the means to be a lifelong endeavor,” Hannon writes. “You cannot stop time and the aging process…However, there will always be a certain gratifying aspect to running. From your first step until your last there will always be a correlation between what you put into running and what you get out of it.”
While the book does inspire at times — such as the preceding passage, at the end of Chapter 6 — in other aspects, it falls short. Hannon addresses a wide variety of topics in his book, but only handles some of them well. Chapter 1, which compares how sprinters and distance runners age, is fascinating. Hannon makes the point that while sprint events are inherently dependent on the physiological properties of muscles — which tend to deteriorate with age — distance running ability relies not just on muscles but measures of running efficiency such as VO2 max, lactate threshold, and running economy, which are not dictated by the declining properties of the muscles. This, perhaps, explains why we see more marathoners excelling in their 30s versus sprinters.
Unfortunately, not all of Racing the Hands of Time is grounded in fact. In Chapter 7, Hannon writes about the psychological breakthrough that accompanied Roger Bannister‘s sub-4:00 mile in 1954, allowing future runners to blast through the barrier. Certainly, Bannister inspired a generation, but Hannon sensationalizes the reality.
“Prior to May 6, 1954, it was a widely held belief that covering the distance of one mile on foot in less than four minutes was humanly impossible,” Hannon writes.
This is a myth; it’s not true. Hannon treats it as fact.
Later, in Chapter 10, Hannon launches into a discussion of how pregnancy affects female distance runners. He writes that “our concern for this chapter is physiology, just the science,” but proceeds to speculate about how the physical pain suffered during childbirth can make women tougher during races. He also mentions vague details about how a woman’s “hormone levels” rise as she carries a child but does not provide any data about how this affects them as athletes. Racing the Hands of Time is not bereft of scientific evidence, but Hannon relies too often on his own anecdotal observations and beliefs when analyzing a topic.
Another problem with Racing the Hands of Time: the writing itself. The book overall could be a lot tighter; at times it feels as if Hannon is trying to pad the book out as many paragraphs are either repetitive or full of obvious information or examples that should go without saying. The prose is not sharp or exciting, though Hannon is not, first and foremost, a writer, so he should be granted some slack in this department.
If it sounds like I’m tearing apart Hannon’s book, well it’s because, to a degree, I am. I’ve read plenty of better, more thoroughly-researched books on running. If you’re a knowledgeable fan of the sport, you’re probably not going to learn much from Racing the Hands of Time; I’d recommend you save yourself the time.
If there is an audience for this book, it is the novice, perhaps a high school athlete who has recently adopted the sport or someone in their 40s taking up running for the first time. In a lot of the chapters, Hannon doesn’t reach definitive conclusions, but introduces ideas and questions for the reader to ponder. In other cases, Hannon will mention something that is common knowledge to students of the sport — say, that an athlete who comes to the sport later in life has more room for improvement than one of the same age that has been training for years. I know that, and if you’re reading LetsRun.com, you probably do as well. But maybe that high school freshman who just joined the team does not.
Two and a half stars.
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