Ultra Porn - The world's toughest endurance challenges

Let's face it, this is what this book is. It probably should come in a plastic grey sleeve. The pages are quite glossy and would wipe clean quite easily.

Sorry, I don't mean to lower the tone. I'll start again.

I was really looking forward to this book and it didn't disappoint. I was looking forward to it even more when I discovered that it includes some quotes from me in there. That's not the best bit of the book obviously.

The Chimp Paradox - A book every ultra-runner should read

So this might not be on all endurance runners "must read" list but I recommend you do. The author Steve Peters has spent the last few years as the head psychologist for the British Cycling team (who apparently have been doing pretty well recently). He has now been put in charge of the minds of the Athletics team for Rio in 2016.

The book is not specifically about mind management for endurance atheltes but some parts of it will resonate with you in your training and racing as an ultra runner.

The book is very simple and fun to read. Steve Peters simplified what goes on in our heads as a battle between a Human and a Chimp. Sounds silly but it is quite a fun and useful way of thinking about what happens inside your head, particularly when you have run 60 odd miles, it's cold, wet and dark, you are exhausted and grumpy and feel like the whole world is conspiring against you. And you still have 40 miles left to run.

The premise of the book is that we are made up of a Human, a Chimp and a Computer (and some other stuff). The Human is the part of us that is measured and rational, it needs purpose and meaning. It is this part of us that sets ourselves goals and gets pleasure from achieving something that is not part of basic survival (such as finishing an ultra marathon or winning an Olympic medal).

However whilst trying to achieve these goals we are often hijacked by the chimp. The chimp is the part of us that is obsessed with basic survival. It is much stronger that the Human part of us and will have a tantrum whenever it feels threatened (such as there being the wrong coloured jelly babies at a checkpoint or a downpour of rain during a race). It will usually recommend quitting to safety. There is no point fighting it head on, it is too strong and is the result of millions of years of evolution that has made the Human race so successful. The only way to deal with it is to manage it.

This book gives great advice as to how to do that. I read this just before I ran the Spartathlon this year and glad I did as I feared (like with other events I have quit this year) that I would quit too easily. I didn't and I think part of the reason was the way this book allowed me to think.

I would definitely add this to my shortlist of essential reading for ultra runners (and any sport that requires a huge amount of commitment through tough times).



Eat and Run - My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness - Scott Jurek

This was a book eagerly anticipated by lots of runners everywhere. Arguably the best ultra runner of the last 20 years gives his account of how he got there. His record is impressive. 7 successive Western States 100 wins, 2 Badwater wins, 3 Spartathlon wins, Hardrock win and who knows how many others.

The book did not disappoint, it is a refreshingly honest and candid view of how he became such a great runner. Obviously he has a huge amount of natural talent that he has exploited in his running career but he does not hide the fact that to get where he got took huge amounts of hard work and experimentation.

It was great reading about how he figured out his diet, his training, his race strategy, his mental and physical abilities. He studied classic training texts (before the internet told us everything) and was obsessed with being the best and winning the event he entered.

I was suprised by how competitive he is. I shouldn't be really, you can't compete at the top like that for years without having a competitve streak but he was obsessed with pushing himself as hard as he could go which in turn was as hard and anyone else could go.

It starts with a lot about his childhood which involved a lot of work for his father and looking after his mother. His friendship with another kid called Dusty who became his pacer for many of his runs. I loved the stories of the races, I liked the frequent advice boxes which I think make great reading for learning about the different aspects of ultra running. Each chapter has a vegan recipe too. Not sure whether I'll try any of those.

He opens up a bit about he felt being in the spotlight. The haters and detractors in some running circles. I think this may have got to him more than he'd like to admit. There is an open account of his time in Mexico, running with the Tarahumara which was to become famous in Born to Run. It was great to get his account of that story and also of his 24 hour track race more recently.

This was much more of a refreshing read than many other books. I am not really a fan of the "I turned up and won because I am awesome" books. Scott turned up and won lots of races because he worked so much harder and trained so much smarter than anyone else. There is a lot to learn here.