Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age Book Review

Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age Book Review

By Marnie Kunz

As I run through my 30s, I’ve come up against the dreaded biological clock that all athletes face. I am aging, and my body isn’t immune to it. The book “Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age” gives me hope, in the form of the world’s top athletes.

I ran track and cross country in high school and college, have led hundreds of Runstreet Art Runs, ran the NYC Marathon, and am a running coach. And I’ve been lucky to be able to run for so long. Yet the frustration and dread I’ve felt from increasing injuries, slower recovery from hard workouts, and what my doctor says is the normal weight gain for people in their 30s, I got down about aging. It feels like a physical decline that is only — no pun intended — downhill from here on out. Have the best years already come? What is there to look forward to as an athlete? And most importantly, how do I stay healthy so I can run strong for the rest of my life?

Season after season, today’s sports superstars seem to defy the limits of physical aging that inevitably sideline their competitors. How much of the difference is genetic destiny and how much can be attributed to better training, medicine and technology?
— Jeff Bercovici

Sports journalist Jeff Bercovici confronts these issues and more in his book, “The New Science of Elite Performance At Any Age,” published in May 2018. In this engaging sports journalism book, the author, an amateur athlete in his 30s, delves deep into the world of elite athletes and sports performance with age. He explores exciting breakthroughs in sports medicine and training that are helping athletes like runner Meb Keflezighi and NFL player Tom Brady to perform well into their 40s, winning championships and setting world records. In the professional sports world, where hitting 30 ends many careers, it is inspiring to read about all the athletes defying these aging odds and, in some cases, myths.

The book delves into the science behind aging and sports performance, and looks at specific cases and studies on how elite athletes are able to dodge, combat and prevent many issues common to aging athletes of all levels — from injuries to declining muscle mass to increased weight. Since a professional athlete’s career continuing even one year longer can earn them millions of dollars, it’s no surprise that top professional players are at the forefront of cutting edge technology to heal faster, get stronger, and delay common obstacles that aging presents. For as we learn in the book, aging itself is not the problem but the conditions that become more common with age are what slows us down in our athletic endeavors.

I learned a lot about the science behind sports performance and mechanics, as well as coaching techniques from the book, and found the studies on the biology of aging, injuries, and healing fascinating. Some of my key takeaways from the book are from the author’s examination of elite athletes who have been able to prolong their careers and play strong well past the typical (often early) age of retirement of others in their sports.

If you’re a sports fan, you’ll be fascinated to read about mindset, training techniques, special diets and cutting edge technology that top athletes like Serena Williams, LeBron James and Carli Loyd employ in their training.

According to the book, endurance athletes peak later than power athletes, as power muscles decline quicker than long twitch muscles over time. Also, seeing the level of discipline of many of the successful longterm athletes was inspiring. At the end of the day, no matter what specific variety of treatments and routines they employ to prolong their careers (and the book details a wide variety of tactics), the athletes who had an unstoppable mindset, a willingness to push beyond what their peers were doing on and off the field, and an open mindedness to trying unorthodox tactics came out on top.

In addition, today’s technological advances have progressed leaps and bounds beyond what most of us ever knew was possible, and it is hopeful to read about the latest sports medicine treatments and practices that are helping athletes perform the sports they love longer than ever. Because, let’s face it, whether you’re a pro or an amateur runner, at the end of the day we all want to run as long as possible — for the love of the sport, and life itself.

Have you read any good running books lately? What’s at the top of your reading list?

Marnie Kunz is a RRCA-certified running coach and the creator of Runstreet Art Runs, which bring together communities through running and street art. She is a Brooklyn resident, running coach and writer. She enjoys traveling, art, and eating messily. You can follow her running and events at @Runstreet Instagram and Runstreet Facebook.