Sunday 12 April 2015

"So you want to run an ultra" Book Review

I saw "So you want to run an ultra" in the latest issue of Trail Running and it sounded worth a read. I ordered a copy from the publisher online and received it within a few days. I'd recommend either buying this way or via a local bookshop to ensure the author and publisher get the maximum income.

Image from the publisher's website
I'm at the stage where any advice about ultra marathons is worth seeking out and this book gives a slightly different perspective. In contrast to the other ultra books I've accumulated so far, which are written by 'star' professional runners, the author, Andy Mouncey is an experienced runner and coach. His biography shows him to be competent and to have 'been there, done that' but he aims to make the point quite early in the book that physiologically, and perhaps psychologically he is 'ordinary'. On several occasions he returns to his DNFs as evidence for what can go wrong even with experience and then writes how we can learn from his, and our, own shortcomings.

I found the book an easy read and went cover to cover across a few days. The 'Real Runners' boxes are a useful component that increases the ordinariness of the endeavour. This is the theme throughout, that long distance running is tough but is done by normal folk and so the reader can do it too. Don't think though that Andy underplays the effort and sacrifices required. This is one area where the book compliments those of the stars where things tend to turn out well and I'm left feeling that I lack being special. In "So you want to run an ultra" it's made clear that the physical process of running is maybe the least of our concerns.

As a relatively new, but 'academic' runner I've read the key texts and so has Andy. He refers to them in several places but I suspect that if I'd not read "The Lore of Running" and "Born to Run" I might not have got his full meaning sometimes. Indeed Andy also touches on paleo and LCHF diets but the metabolic issues are not explored in depth. This isn't a serious criticism, Andy stresses that his book is not a training manual nor scientific resource, just a distillation of his experience. If you are thinking of running an ultra I'd be amazed if you haven't read a lot of this material already and I'd recommend that you do if not.

Often books like this give several training plans which even though they claim to be for 'beginners' require a high percentage of ones life and potentially superhuman resilience to complete. I was pleased to see that here we are encouraged to use training time wisely, acknowledging that for many runners other commitments and risk of injury stop us achieving 120km training weeks.

Andy's short book is a useful UK-centric guide, that does help to fulfil the subtitle's goal of "How to prepare for ultimate endurance". I know I'll return to it when I've a query just as I've checked back in my other running books when I can't decide what action to take in training or to find an explanation for how I feel.

ISBN: 978-1-84797-830-1
Published and sold by Crowood at £12-99

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