Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons

( 5 )


Marathons have become too easy for some runners. What was once the pinnacle of achievement in a runner’s life is now a stepping stone for extraordinary adventure in ultramarathoning. The number of ultrarunners—those running distances of 50k (31miles), 50 miles, 100k (62 miles), or 100 miles—is growing astronomically each year.

Dean Karnazes’ Ultramarathon Man and Chris McDougall’s Born to Run have inspired tens of thousands to try these seemingly superhuman distances. But to ...

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Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons

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Marathons have become too easy for some runners. What was once the pinnacle of achievement in a runner’s life is now a stepping stone for extraordinary adventure in ultramarathoning. The number of ultrarunners—those running distances of 50k (31miles), 50 miles, 100k (62 miles), or 100 miles—is growing astronomically each year.

Dean Karnazes’ Ultramarathon Man and Chris McDougall’s Born to Run have inspired tens of thousands to try these seemingly superhuman distances. But to date, there has been no practical guide to ultramarathoning. Now, Bryon Powell has written Relentless Forward Progress, the first how-to manual for aspiring ultrarunners. Powell covers every aspect of training for and racing ultra distances. This encyclopedic volume prepares runners for going farther than they have ever gone before and, in the process, shows them that they are capable of the “impossible.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781891369902
  • Publisher: Breakaway Books
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Pages: 229
  • Sales rank: 129,427
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Bryon Powell is a former Washington, DC, attorney who left his job to devote himself to running ultramarathons full time. He publishes the popular trail running and ultrarunning website, and competes in ultras nationwide. His articles have also been published in Outside, Running Times, Trail Runner, Competitor, and UltraRunning. Bryon is a contributing editor at Trail Runner and is an advisory board member of the American Trail Running Association. He lives in Park City, Utah. As a runner, he has twice placed in the top ten at the Leadville 100 (’06 & ’09), twice won the under-30 age group at the Western States 100 (’05 & ’06), and was part of the first American team to place in the top three at Morocco’s Marathon des Sables (’09).

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Read an Excerpt

Relentless Forward Progress

A Guide to Running Ultramarathons
By Bryon Powell

Breakaway Books

Copyright © 2011 Bryon Powell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781891369902


What Is an Ultramarathon?

What is an ultramarathon anyway? Does it require you to run 100 miles over mountain trails in a race such as the Western States Endurance Run or to suffer through 135 road miles in the furnace-like heat of the Badwater Ultramarathon? No. Simply, an ultramarathon is any race longer than the marathon’s 26 miles and 385 yards.

If you’ve completed a marathon and have run a few additional yards before, during, or after the race, then you’ve completed an ultramarathon. If you’ve taken a wrong turn on a long training run and, through a combination of running and walking, have covered more than 26.2 miles, then you, too, could call yourself an ultra-marathoner.

Still, while both of the above scenarios technically make you an ultramarathoner, it would be somewhat disingenuous to call yourself one after such an effort. As you learn after spending time around other ultramarathoners, the sport is built upon community and the "spirit of the sport,” rather than self-recognition and technicalities.

With that in mind, there’s a second, implicit criterion that should be met before calling yourself an ultramarathoner: the intent to complete an ultra distance. Secondarily and with a nod to the disfavor of technicalities in ultrarunning, the intended distance should be an appreciable distance longer than the marathon. Sorry, but setting out with the aim to run 26.3 miles just doesn’t sit right.

For most runners, 50-kilometer (31.1-mile) races are the gateway into "ultras,” as ultramarathons are commonly known. Those seeking to test themselves with a first ultramarathon at the shorter end of the race spectrum are in luck, as the 50k distance is the most frequently raced ultra distance in most locales. To give you an idea of the prevalence of 50ks, in 2010, well in excess of 200 of them were run in the United States, while 60 were run in California alone. Other runners use time-based races of 6- or 12-hour duration to ease into the requisite distance.

To be clear, you need not run a race to have run an ultramarathon. For instance, you could meet up with a running club for an ultra-distance "fat ass” event. Traditionally, fat ass events carry some variation on the disclaimer, "No fees, no awards, no aid, no wimps.” While the disclaimer may make it sound like fat ass events are no place for running a first ultra, many such events do have limited aid, and their non-competitive nature provides even more collegiality than normally found in the friendly world of ultras. If you prefer solitude, create your own first ultra, whether it involves running laps around your neighborhood or a daylong wilderness adventure run.

All that said, most runners prefer to break the ultra barrier in an official race before calling themselves ultrarunners. If you’ve run a marathon, you may understand the inherent feeling of accomplishment of reaching a true finish line. That feeling is repeated in your first ultra. Satisfaction lies in the act of crossing the finish line, receiving a finisher’s award, and forever after being able to say, "I ran my first ultra at XYZ Race.” Before race day, having a race on your calendar keeps you motivated to train when any of a countless number of detractors, from work and family, to weather and illness, threaten to derail it. At the race itself, you have a built-in supply network of aid stations, while volunteers, spectators, and fellow competitors aid you in your journey beyond the marathon.

Why Run an Ultramarathon?

You may still be considering whether or not you want to train for an ultra—or perhaps you’re looking for some reassurance for continuing to do so. While it is unlikely that training for and racing an ultramarathon will be easy throughout, there are many reasons to run an ultra, whether it’s your 1st or 40th.

For starters, if this will be your first ultramarathon, you will experience a journey into the unknown. The ultramarathon represents a new challenge in attempting to run farther than you ever have before. Rest assured that the challenge is both physical and mental. Find out if you have what it takes.
The complicated and unpredictable nature of ultramarathons can, somewhat counterintuitively, help you reconnect with running. Devon Crosby-Helms, winner of the 2008 Vermont 100-miler, suggests, "A good reason to switch from marathons [to ultras] is because in ultras you have to think about more than just splits and ticking off miles at a certain pace. I think it reconnects you with running in a way that marathoning doesn’t.”

Training for and racing ultramarathons also connects you with a new group of friends. Most folks who have crossed over from subultradistance road racing have found a tight-knit but welcoming community. Ultrarunners are often eager to share the trail with anyone dipping his or her toe into the ultra world. Not only are these runners welcoming, they are an invaluable resource. Coach Lisa Smith-Batchen suggests to new ultrarunners, "Find a group of people that are already running on the trails so they can help you.” Likewise, if you’re training for a road ultra, find some folks training for one. Don’t worry if you’re already active in a running club or community; many ultrarunners enjoy the company of multiple running groups. Variety is the spice of life, after all!

American runners spend the vast majority of their running miles pounding the pavement. On the other hand, most North American ultramarathons are run on trails, so getting ready for one is a great excuse to get off the pavement and up into the hills. While you’re up there you might just see spectacular things. Scotty Mills, who has run ultras for more than a quarter century, notes, "The advantages of training for trail ultras over road marathons are the beauty of the trails, the shared trail time in remote areas, and the peaceful feeling of training with the mind-set that you can run forever.”

Running an ultra also provides a great break from competitive pressures, while still giving you a goal to shoot for. It’s easy to get caught up in racing when there are 10,000 runners blasting down the course with you. The smaller fields, longer distances, and variable conditions of ultras help shift your competition from others to yourself. Knowing that others are thinking the same way makes this transition all the easier. Plus, if it’s your first ultra, you’ll set a PR no matter how long it takes you to finish! Finally, as Mills points out, "The training and friends you make in ultrarunning are the real payoffs; the race itself can almost be secondary in importance.”

In attempting to do what so few people have done, you may end up inspiring yourself. "The mind is a very powerful thing, and it’s generally the only thing standing between you and something incredible. You can always do more than you think you can,” suggests ultra-convert Paige Troelstrup. In a similar vein, Leadville Trail 100-mile founder Ken Choulber is often heard reminding runners, "You’re tougher than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.” Go find out if Ken is right!

How to Use This Book to Run an Ultramarathon

Whatever your reasons, you’ve come to this book in search of guidance for running an ultramarathon, perhaps your first—and that is what you’ll find. This book begins by providing a basic framework for ultramarathon training. Following this foundation, you will find training plans for 50ks (31 miles), moderate-distance ultras of 40 miles to 100k (62 miles), and longer ultras of 100 miles and beyond. You’ll also receive a concise education on trail running, a vital component of most ultramarathons.

You’ll learn many lessons en route to a successful ultramarathon. These lessons can be slowly and sometimes painfully self-taught through trial and error. This books aims to shorten the learning process and minimize unneeded suffering by instructing you regarding the ins and outs of ultramarathon hydration and nutrition. Even if you consume the correct fluid and fuel to keep you going on the course, injuries and other challenges can be a quick way to a DNF (did not finish), so they are covered, too. You’ll also want the right gear while training and racing, so that’s covered, as well.

Once you have the tools and training, it’s time to attempt your first ultramarathon. Learn how to prepare for race day and how to approach the race itself. In general, the nutrition, required gear, pacing, environmental conditions, and time on your feet for an ultra differ significantly even from a marathon. In fact, environmental conditions, from blistering heat to breath-stealing altitude, are encountered often enough in ultras to warrant a chapter of their own.

Last but not least, this book offers a few options for exploring and then expanding the world of ultramarathons. Ultras are a social phenomenon; chapter 14 touches on various ways for sharing your journey with others, and points out community-based resources. Finally, the afterword examines variations on the ultramarathon theme, including adventure runs, endurance snowshoeing, fast-packing, and stage races.

Ultrarunning elites and subject area experts have weighed in with their advice to help round out the pages of this book. The widely varying contributions are presented in each runner’s own voice from Krissy Moehl’s inspirational essay on why you should run an ultra to Karl King’s technical insight on hydration and electrolyte balance and from David Horton’s decades-long perspective on how to prepare for your first ultra to Dakota Jones’ fresh take on trail stewardship. I trust you will find their thoughts as valuable as I have.


Excerpted from Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell Copyright © 2011 by Bryon Powell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 11
Foreword by Eric Grossman 13

1 So You Want to Run an Ultramarathon! 19
What Is an Ultramarathon? 19
Why Run an Ultramarathon? 21
How to Use This Book to Run an Ultramarathon 23
Why Run an Ultra? by Krissy Moehl 25

2 The Building Blocks of Ultramarathon Training 29

Turn Up the Training Volume 29
Training Pace 29
Weekly Mileage 30
Increasing Weekly Mileage and the 10 Percent Rule 31
On the Long Run 33
Put Your Back into It: Back-to-Back Long Runs 35
Bonk Runs 36
The Need for Speed: Intervals, Fartleks, and Tempo Runs, Oh My! 37
The Need for Speed?: Why Speed Training Is Unnecessary for Ultramarathons, by Geoff Roes 40
Racing Far Is No Excuse for Training Slow, by Ian Torrence 43
Recovery 47
Tips for Recovery 49
Tapering 51
Ultra Cross Training, by Adam Chase 52
Burnout and Fear of Missing Out 55
Overreaching and Overtraining 56
Do You Need a Coach? 58
Conclusion 60

3 Training for Course Specifics 61
On Footing 61
Trails 62
Roads 63
Tips for Running a Road Ultra, by Michael Wardian 64
On Climbing 67
On Descending 69
Downhill Running in Ultras, by Dave Mackey 71

4 Using the Training Plans 75
Presumption of Training Background 75
Time Versus Mileage Versus Trail Mileage 76
Training Specificity 76
Speed Work 77
Intervals 77
Tempo Runs 79
No-Speed-Work Option 79
Rest 80
Tailor Your Training Plan 80
Days of the Week 80
Days Per Week 81
Altering Weekly Mileage 82
Jumping into the Deep End: Starting Training Plans at Week 5 83
Preparatory Races 84
Consistency Is Critical 84
Coach Yourself 85

5 Training for 50k, 50-Mile, and 100k Races 87
Modifications for Running Less than 50 Miles per Week 87
Training for a 50k Race 88
Option to Modify a Marathon Training Plan for a 50k Race 89
Training Plan for a 50k Race on 50 Miles per Week 91
Training Plan for a 50k Race on 70 Miles per Week 92
Training for 40-Mile to 100k Races 93
Training Plan for Races of 40 Miles to 100k on 50 Miles per Week 94
Training Plan for Races of 40 Miles to 100k on 70 Miles per Week 95
Training for Your First 50 Miler, by Dr. David Horton 96

6 Training for a 100-Mile Race 99
Training Plan for a 100-Mile Race on 50 Miles per Week 101
Training Plan for a 100-Mile Race on 70 Miles per Week 102

7 Trail Running Basics 103
Life’s Crooked Paths 103
Walking, Your New Best Friend 106
Lean on Me: Get a Boost From Trekking Poles 108
How to Walk Uphill 109
Staying Safe on the Trails 111
How to Fall 113
Does a Bear **** in the Woods? 116
For Men 116
For Women 116
Defecating in the Woods 117
Protect-A-Place, for the Places You Want to Protect Most:
A New and Improved Formula for Running Trails Responsibly, by Dakota Jones 119

8 Hydration and Electrolytes: Keeping the Glass Half Full 123
Fluid Loss 124
Electrolytes and Hydration 125
Table: Water–Electrolyte Balance, by Karl King 127
Monitoring Hydration 128
Hauling Your Hydration Source 129
Tips for Drinking on the Go 130

9 Fueling the Fire: Nutrition and Ultras 131
General Notes on Nutrition 131
Feed the Habit: Long Run and Race Day Nutrition 133
Nausea 137
Fueling for Recovery 139

10 No Pain, No Gain: Dealing with Injuries and Other Setbacks 141
Listen to Your Body 142
The Dish on Chafing 142
The Agony of De Feet 143
Blister Prevention by John Vonhof 145
Rhabdomyolysis and Kidney Failure 149
I Said, NSAIDs! 151
The Lean, by Scotty Mills 152

11 Gear Up 155
Treat Your Feet Right 155
Benefits of Trail Shoes 156
Choosing a Shoe for the Trail 159
Light Up the Night 160
Getting Carried Away: Options for Hauling Gear 162
Get Me Outta Here: Navigation on the Trail 163
GPS Accuracy Tips 166

12 Racing Ultramarathons 167
Choosing Your First Ultra 167
Setting Goals and Expectations 168
Pre-Race Preparations 170
Travel Plans 170
Race Research and Planning 170
Sample: My To-Do List for the 2009 Leadville 100 172
Support Crews 173
Pacers 175
Drop Bags 176
In-Race Strategy 177
Go Out Slow 177
Maintain an Even Effort 178
Mental Approaches to Race Day 179
Race Day Problem Solving 180
Across the Highland Sky: A Story of In-Race Management, by Eric Grossman 182
Aid Station Strategy 185
Have Fun! 186

13 Environmental Conditions 187
The Heat Is On 187
Performance and Acclimation 187
Heat Performance and Acclimation, by William Henderson, MD 189
Tips for Beating the Heat 193
Hot-Weather Ultra Tips, by Jamie Donaldson 194
Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heatstroke 195
Avoid Being Low at High Altitude 196
The Effects of Altitude 197
Arriving and Acclimating at Altitude 198
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema and High Altitude Cerebral Edema 200
Chill Out with Cold-Weather Running 201
Clothing 202
Hydration, Fueling, and Other Tasks 203
Traction 204
Learning to Run in Cold Weather 204
Hypothermia, Frostnip, and Frostbite 204

14 The Ultrarunning Community 207
Join the Ranks 207
Call for Feedback 209
Ultrarunning and the Internet 210
Ultrarunning as a Family Affair 211
Conclusion 212

Afterword: The Sky Is No Limit by Meghan M. Hicks 213
Get Yer Adventure On 214
By Snowshoes We Endure 215
Fastpack It 217
Stage Races and the Art of Attrition 218
Dream It, Do It 220

Appendix: Barefoot Running and Ultramarathons, by Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee 221
How Does Barefoot Running Help? 222
Baby-Step Your Way into Running Light and Free 223
Barefoot Benefits 226

About the Author 230

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2012

    A great introduction to ultramarathons

    As a runner who has completed a number of marathons but no ultras - at least yet! - I found this book to be extremely informative and helpful. The author covers the entire gambit of technical issues confronting the ultramarathon runner is a manner that is readable and entertaining.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2012


    Amaziiiiing! (Too many i's?) :D Well, I've made a decision. I'm going to rewrite Dauntless, at "afterwards all results. A couple chapters were rushed, and I'm not exactly following the path I'd like to. I mean, I am, but... you'll see what I mean. Anyway, great story! I'll always be watching for a book called "Castle Hill," by L & K (or your real name.) :) Well, it's still an awesome story! Long live Castle Hill!
    -Dauntless's author
    (I just started to think... would Janred and Terrin be a cute pair? I reread some of your earlier chapters a while back, and was curious about that... hmm...) :)

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2012


    "Finally some romance! Epic!"

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2012


    Chapter Twenty-seven:

    Jalock and I were silent as we trekked through the sunlit woods. The fallen leaves crunched under my feet.
    "Alora?" Jalock's voice came from behind me.
    "Yes?" I said, turning around to face him.
    "This splitting up... this isn't just so you and me can be alone together, is it?"
    I was suprised by the question. "N-no." I stammered.
    Jalock took a step forward, and I smiled slightly.
    Before I knew what was happening, he had took my hand and pulled me towards him, his eyes growing closer...
    The sound of a twig snapping made us leap apart. I could hear footsteps, and the crunching of leaves.
    Someone- or something- was coming.
    "Hide!" I ordered under my breath, franticly searching for a place to hide. My eyes rested on an old oak tree. The ground beneath the roots had fallen away to reveal a small hole, just big enough for a person to squeeze through.
    "There!" I told Jalock, dashing for the opening. I shoved myself inside, and he slid in after me.
    We were in some kind of cave. It was large and spacious, and there was enough room for us to stand up.
    I cowered in a shaded corner, holding my breath. Jalock crouched beside me, and we listened.
    I could hear footsteps, then silence. I thought I could hear faint voices, but they were so quiet that I couldn't make out what they were saying.
    I heard the crunching of leaves again, then a rustling of branches, then silence.
    "Think... think they're gone?" I breathed.
    "I think so." Jalock replied.
    I could just make him out in the dim light. I shakily got to my feet, keeping away from the thin shaft of light, just in case someone was still out there.
    "No one will see us." Jalock murmured.
    "See us?" I echoed, unsure what he ment.
    And then he leaned forward, putting an arm around me.
    Shock flared in my eyes as he gave me a kiss.
    It may have lasted hours, or only a heartbeat, but after what seemed like ages, we broke apart.
    "Jalock... I..." I stammered, feeling more happy than I had in days, mabye weeks.
    He smiled, then winked.
    "Let's get out of here." I said. He nodded, and we both climbed out of the hole.
    I told myself that I would never, ever, forget that first kiss, but something told me that to Jalock, that kiss might not have ment anything.
    Logas led Frenn through the trees, his hand at his sword hilt, and brown eyes darting from side to side.
    The silence unnerved him.
    "It's too quiet." Frenn whispered.
    Logas nodded, peering through the trees. He could see a dark shape in the distance.
    "Hide!" He ordered, shoving Frenn behind a tree. Leaping into the bushes, Logas prepared to spring into battle.
    But it wasn't a misty-man. It was one of the others.
    Logas narrowed his eyes. Jalock and Alora. Of course.
    He thought back to the days before Jalock had come to Redwood. Those days had seemed happier, and much more pleasant. But it seemed to him that Jalock had unleashed a storm cloud upon the small town.
    He beckoned to Frenn to come out. The red-hairred boy emerged from behind the beech, and stepped on a twig.
    Logas saw Jalock and Alora leap apart, and dash off. The two companions drew nearer to the place they had been.
    Logas saw a small hole at the foot of an oak, and guessed they had hidden there. But something else drew his attention. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a pale misty gray figure.
    "Quick! Into that tree!" He ordered, and they both vanished into the branches.

    0 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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