I'll read anything about ultra running. I'm a bit boring like that. There is a lot out there nowadays, probably more than I could ever read. Here is a list of "suggested reading" that I would recomend to anyone who has yet to pick up a book on the subject.
"How" to run ultras
OK I don't believe the way to get good at running ultras is to read a book and then follow those instructions to the letter. This is fine for Triathlon and flat pack cabinets but long distance running is something so part of our nature that there are a million different ways of being successful and it really is a case of finding your own way. It's just like writing a book about how to be successful with the ladies. Has anyone ever written such a book? Impossible.
That said I think the best starting point if you are new to this game or want a general reference is Bryon Powells very good book Relentless Forward Progress. It contains great discussions of the major things you should be aware of before starting out on running all day and all night such as nutrition, hydration, temperature control, kit, shoes and pacing. It does also include training plans if you are at a total loss as to what to do. The best all round guide I have come across. My review is here.
Bryon also runs a website irunfar.com which is a great source of info and debate about all things ultra.
Why We Run - Bernd Heinrich
Bernd Heinrich is probably the Indiana Jones of ultra running. His scientific research and ultra running credentials are amazing and this book is an absolute must read for anyone into distance running and the science behind it.
Bernd was a very good runner at school, getting somewhere near the 4 minute mile as a kid. He put the running down for a while to work in Africa and developed further his love of the natural world. He worked as a biologist and became fascinated in the endurance and running capabilities of animals. He looked at nature and asked some of these questions;
- How does a bumble bee or a moth flap it's wings 1000s of times a minute and not overheat? The thing should turn into a ball of flames.
- How do birds manage to fly 3000 miles non-stop over several days without re-fueling?
- How can a Pronghorn Antelope run 10k in 7 minutes? What kind of VO2 Max would that require?
He pondered all this while trying to break American ultra distance records. His experiments were a joy to read (especially the one involving beer).
I like books that reassure me that what I do is normal and sustainable. I liked this book a lot.
Survival of the Fittest - Mike Stroud
Awesome Book - Mike Stroud is the guy who does all those amazing adventures with Ranulph Fiennes, he is a doctor and has a lot to say about training and the human body. Another book I am naturally bias towards as it evangelises fitness and makes another good case for running being the natural thing. One this different about this is that it says running in the heat is normal. So no complaining about the British Summer.
But the adventures go elsewhere, in an unsupported trip across Antarctica. Pulling a sled full of lard he and Ranulph went for months in the coldest places on Earth and discovered new levels of human capability.
Run by Feel - Matt Fitzgerald
I like it when people tell me that things are much simpler than others make out. I liked this book immediately, every page seemed to just say cut out the complexities of what you have done before and keep it really simple.
There are a lot of good things I have taken from this book so far. Simply put the key to developing a good running technique are;
- Run lots
- Run fast sometimes
- Run when fatigued sometimes
There were a lot of other gems in this and would definitely suggest reading it. It's funny because his previous book "Brain training for runners" finished off with the usual appendices of training plans for you to stick to. This time he suggests you wing it a lot more. So for example if you are supposed to be doing a hard run but don't feel like it's working then you can ease back and call it a recovery run. Vice versa if you are running easy and feel like smashing it then you should go for it, so long as you get a good combination of speed/recovery/long/hill etc runs in.
Lore of Running- Tim Noakes
Can I admit that I have not read this whole book? Is that like saying I've never properly read the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy or that I don't really get the Monty Python parrot sketch?
But this book is a classic, probably best seen as a manual for everything to do with running and within it there is a chapter on ultra running which has mostly stood the test of time.
Mark Hines - Various Books
I've met Mark a couple of times now, firstly on our ill fated attempt to run the UTSW 100 last summer. He is an endurance runner, adventurer and physiologist. His books brilliantly bridge practical advice and experience on running ultras in hostile environments with some sciency stuff about what such environments do to the body.
I recommend any of these books for someone looking for advice about desert racing, arctic racing (something of a speciality of Mark's) and jungle racing. His books detail his own experiences of training for the Marathon Des Sables, the Yukon races and the Jungle Marathon. There are plenty of interesting chapters available on his website including this one on running in the heat.
Born to Run - Christopher McDougal
Awesome book. Still not reviewed yet but then you have all read it haven't you?
Bunion Derby - Charles B Kastner
On March 4th in 1928 199 runners set out from Los Angeles to race to New York and claim a prize of $25,000 for first place. That was quite a lot of money at the time, a policeman would earn about $40 a week. In fact that is still a lot of money now, I estimate that is what it will cost me to do this.
The twenties in the USA was in interesting decade. An economic boom and huge rises in personal income for many which led to some crazy behaviour. Drinking alcohol was illegal and people expressed themselves in funyn ways, such as by 24 hour dancing, week long flag pole sitting and swimming for days. People seemed to go mad for the endurance challenges.
I don't want to go into detail of the book (or spoil the ending) and I recommend you all read it and I challenge you to not want to follow their footsteps on finishing the book. There are however a few things that just stood out for me when reading.
- It was a proper race. Not much I do nowadays seems like a proper race but these guys all seemed to be there in hope of winning the money. Most of the competitors were quite poor and scraped the $100 somehow and gambled with 3 months of their lives that they could win this
- They were actually running quite fast. Quite often I'd read something like "So and so won the 38 mile stage averaging 8 miles an hour". 8 miles an hour for 38 miles when you've already run 2000? That would be the kind of time I would do if I just tried to run that distance once at full speed and did not have to get up for the next week.
- America is enormous. Well, not just the distance but the geography that you have to run through. The route goes through the hottest desert, mountain ranges, great plains where the winds are so bad that trees grow sideways.
- Everyone was so young. There were a lot of people in their 20s. There was one kid who was 15 and got halfway before this was discovered and he was kicked out. There were not many over 40. Next year there will be not many under 40.
- I actually found out what a bunion is. I thought it was like a callous or something but it is actually quite severe muscle contortion in the foot. I don't want to get that.
- The winning time was 573h 4m 34s. That is a long long time. And why on earth were they measuring the seconds?
Ultramarathon Man - Dean Karnazes
Well obviously you have read this one too? It is an incredibly entertaining book and if you wanted a quick intro to the "crazy" world of ultra running.
Marshall Ulrich - Running on Empty
Marshall Ulrich is a legend even amongst legendary ultra runners, let alone sport induced binge eaters like me. His original foray into endurance sports was borne out of personal loss. His accomplishments were vast, several Badwater wins, double, quadruple Badwaters, climbing the 7 highest mountains of the seven continents, 9 eco-challenges (really hardcore multi-day multi sport endurance events) and various combinations of 100 mile races in quick succession marked him out as someone who knew how to suffer. Though I still don't think anyone can ever be "ready" to run across America Ulrich was probably as close as you can get.
The run ended up straining Ulrichs mind and body and his relationships with some of the cast. His determination to get it done at high speed was amazing. He compares himself to a badger when running, something that I can do quite easily :) "Dig deep and love home".
The Extra Mile - Pam Reed
This is probably the best book of an elite ultra runner I have read. Her achievements are impressive, she won Badwater outright twice and ran 300 miles non-stop. She battled anorexia in her youth and was motivated to achieve great things. This is much more than an "I am awesome" book, even though she is.
Feet in the Clouds - Richard Askwith
There exist a few books that "have" to be read in the same way that some ultras "have" to be run. Feet in the Clouds by Richard Asquith is one such book, one of a handful of books that every runner seems to have read. I am ashamed of myself for taking so long to finally start reading it. I am also ashamed that I was 30 years old before ever going to the Lake District.
A boy from London trying to take on some of the spectacular hills of the Lake District by throwing gear and science at it. Sports drinks and fancy shoes and maps. It struck me like he had missed the point as to what it was do run on those fells, not that I really know. Reminded me of several discussions on my clubs forum in the winter that would start something like "I've noticed it's snowing outside. Obviously I can't just go and run in the snow but I have a spreadsheet to stick to so don't know what to do. Is there a piece of kit I can buy that will just make the snow go away?"
Askwith is not one of these super athletes but takes on the challenge anyway. The account of his own personal efforts and failures makes great reading for those who want to make an attempt at this.
I recommend going to the lakes though, it is beautiful but really hard terrain.
Meditations from the Breakdown Lane - James Shapiro
His account is quite poetic and he kept a journal with him all the time to capture all of the events and thoughts he enjoyed (and suffered) along his 3100 mile 80 day adventure. He did the run as a "Journeyman", meaning self supported rather than being in a race. The majority of the runners who beforehand had completed this run across the continent have done so in an organised race. To this day there have been 270 known foot crossings. Shapiro was the 108th.
Whatever I end up calling my book - James Adams
Obviously the most awesomest book ever wroted. When it actually gets written..
Ultramarathon - James Shapiro
It’s an easy one to miss as it’s so rare but anyone wanting to read the history of ultra-running up until 1980 should seek this gem.
Most of the book is not about Shapiro’s experience but of him tracking down some of the historical figures of ultra-running and talking to them about their experiences. Remember this is before the days of some of the “classic” ultra-marathons. Before the Spartathlon or Badwater or the MDS existed. The Western States 100 was only just gathering momentum. 100 mile races tended to be the 100 mile points of 24 hour races since it as difficult to measure 100 miles otherwise. It was before some of the more modern household names had got into this kind of stuff such as Yiannis Kouros and Scott Jurek.
The book is rich in stories of races and runner of years gone by.
It is not pain I feel but sinking
My involvement with the world grows dimmer
It occurs to me that it would be nice to keel over
A barely audible whisper says it would be a way out
It seems almost impossible to bother any more..
but I do
Running through the Wall - Personal encounters with the ultramarathon - Various
lots of great short stories and race reports, about 40 in total. I find that reading others experiences of races is a great way to pick to tips, advice, inspiration and experience and there is a lot of that in here. All levels are covered from elete to first timers. I think this was the first time I heard about a race called Barkley.
And then the Vulture Eats You - Various
Another great collection of short stories about mainly ultrarunning.
Tales from Out There -Ed Furtaw
This is a book written by one of the Barkley "Sickos" "Frozen" Ed Furtaw on the history of the Barkley Marathons. It describes in great detail the past runnings of the race (he has run most and attended some more).
The Barkley Marathons in case you don't know is arguably the toughest race there is. It is 100 miles long (though most others measures of the course clock it at about 130 miles), it's 5 loops around some trails in the Frozen Head National Park in Tennessee. The climbing involved is around 18000m, or twice Everest or twice UTMB. The trail is often overgrown with briars (I think that is American for thorns) and there is no support in the race. Thus far 13 people have finished in about 20 years.
Running a lot - 10000 miles of Garmin splits - Abor N Pratt