Young Runners at the Top, by Brad Hudson, Lize Brittin, and Kevin Beck, is a comprehensive training guide aimed at coaches, parents, and kids. It tells you all the basics and practical details you need to know about training plans, strength training, gear, nutrition, injuries, and cross training.
The focus is on helping kids build a sustainable, healthy running career by having fun and finding rewards in the process regardless of their ability level. Its overarching theme, though, and what makes it stand out from other training guides, is its insistence on guiding runners to a strong sense of self, of learning their needs and personal boundaries and what’s healthy for them.
The writers of Young Runners at the Top have an impressive collective of experience as runners and coaches. Brad Hudson coaches a professional running team, Hudson Elite; Kevin Beck is a writer and runner who has coached at the high school level; and Lize Brittin has written extensively about her experiences with eating disorders and overtraining as a young standout runner. They draw on this experience throughout the book, and also interviewed young runners, parents, and coaches about how they deal with common training and communication challenges.
A theoretical framework, the Long-Term Athlete Development Model (LTAD for short) provides the road map for developing kids into athletes in a fair, age-appropriate manner. The LTAD is especially useful for high school running coaches who may be amateur runners themselves, but don’t have a lot of coaching experience or a background in training science. There are seven stages of development in the LTAD, starting from ages 0-6 (“Active Start”) to age 19 (“Train to win”). Start by making sure movement is fun; the book suggests several games for younger kids that involve lots of running. Over a period of ten or more years, introduce the different types and intensities of training and competition. Athletes who participated in a range of sports as kids have longer-term careers when they finally do choose their specialty, so it’s great to do a different sport each season. And if you’re unsure whether your kid is doing the right amount of running, or too much or too little? Just ask. Communication with your little runner is key.
Indeed, the authors put athlete/parent and athlete/coach communication at the center of a successful running career. They emphasize that it is the adults’ job to ensure honest, frank communication with young athletes. There is advice for parents on how to set boundaries around their child’s sport and competitions (did you know that a poll of college athletes asking for their worst memory of their sport found most of them said the car ride home from a competition?). And there is also advice for coaches on setting boundaries with parents and with athletes, and on how to navigate common issues with young runners such as eating disorders. Of course, there is also advice for the athletes on how to address common problems and issues that crop up between runners and coaches: is the training working? Should I be thinner to run fast? Should I train when I’m sick?
The chapter on nutrition is a good example of the authors’ thorough, thoughtful approach to helping runners grow. They cover nutrition basics – macronutrients, vitamins, supplements – and advise on what to eat before competition, including sample meals for competition days. Of course, there’s much more to nutrition than just eating, and the authors engage in an extensive, nuanced discussion of common issues with weight and nutrition in runners. The goal should be to help the young runner learn to “read his or her body from day to day”, and a healthy relationship to your body and to food are key. We learn that Brad Hudson doesn’t monitor his athletes’ weight at all, but he does pay attention to key indicators that someone should be eating more, like injury or extreme fatigue. There is a section on recognizing and dealing with eating disorders, a section called “Diet vs. Nourishment”, and a section titled “Staying true to yourself” that emphasizes the importance of support from coaches and others in helping athletes to keep their “number one focus…on feeling strong and healthy, not on looking a certain way.”
A Book For All Runners
I loved the book’s emphasis on learning to handle challenges in a healthy way. It’s about developing into a physically and mentally strong, healthy runner, and about how coaches and parents can support that process. In fact, I had the thought, while reading the chapter on the role of a mentor, that runners of any age could benefit from this book. For instance, first learn the training basics before you worry about race times. Effort is the only thing you control. And there are plenty of other lessons and reminders that a lot of adult runners could use.
While reading Young Runners At The Top, I wondered whether 15-year-old me would have read the chapters meant for adults, or whether I would have rolled my eyes and put the book down. That’s my only worry about the book: that its intended audience of runners, coaches, and parents may be too broad to attract the group that could benefit most from its wisdom: the runners themselves.
Nonetheless, I hope the book is widely read by high school runners, and even discussed in a team setting. It would make a great basis for starting conversations around topics that aren’t always openly discussed like weight, nutrition, and dealing with pressure.
Have you read Young Runners at the Top? What did you think? How might a book like this benefit you?