The Road to Sparta by Dean Karnazes: Book Review

How did Dean Karnazes’ heritage influence his running?

Both his maternal and paternal roots are in Greece, and are known for both their resilience and tranquil way of life. Karnazes’s genetic linkage is also distinguished by abnormally enlarged, bifurcated calf muscles.


Growing up, did Dean Karnazes run?

Yes, Karnazes did run, winning a mile race at school and enjoying cross country. Inspired by his coach and teammates he sometimes ran 70-80 miles a week. At 14 years old, he overcame severe pain to run 105 laps of a track, equivalent to a marathon, raising money for his high school. Similar to East African runners Karnazes found running home from school freeing.


Did Dean Karnazes pursue a running career once he became an adult?

No. Instead of pursuing a running career Karnazes sought a high salary and status, becoming a millionaire by his late 20s by working at GlaxoSmithKline.


What was the catalyst for Dean Karnazes’ ultrarunning career?

Partly discontent with his corporate job and seeking a new challenge, he ran 30-miles on the night of his 30th birthday, wearing only pants and trainers. From that moment on he became addicted to the sport. He would often run more than once a day, and 8-10 hours non-stop each day of the weekend. His commitment lead him to become a sponsored athlete, after finishing The North Face, a 100-mile footrace. He then quit his corporate job to become a full-time athlete.


What is his advice to ultrarunners?

Karnazes’ ultrarunning advice is to always hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Multiple contingency plans are essential. Interestingly, despite enjoying competing Karnazes preferred less-structured adventure outside of racecourse boundaries. Due to his natural introversion he would run for hours and sometimes days alone, away from home.


What did Dean Karnazes discover about Ancient Greek ultrarunners?

During his journey of self-discovery he came across hemerodromoi, professional day-long runners in Ancient Greek times. These athletes would cover incredible distances on foot, over rocky and mountainous terrain, forgoing sleep. Hemerodromia were men of high strength-to-weight ratios, upstanding characters and hugely patriotic. They ran barefoot or in leather sandals, and ate figs, olives, dried meats and pastela (ground sesame seeds and honey in paste form).


What is the story of Pheidippides?

Pheidippides was one of the best hemerodromia of his times, and was needed to carry important messages between Athenians and Spartans during the invasion of the Persian armies around 490 BC. He is said to have run from Athens to Sparta (136-142 miles) for 36 hours straight, only to return to Athens in 2 days after a brief stop. He then had to run 25 miles to Marathon and once again run back to Athens. Unsurprisingly he died of exhaustion, covering over 300 miles in less than a week.


How did Dean Karnazes prepare for the Spartathlon?

Intrigued to replicate Pheidippides’ epic journey, Karnazes completed a number of adventures.

  • He ran the Silicon Valley Marathon half naked dressed as Pheidippides.
  • He ran 700 miles to the 2007 San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, then completed the marathon in 3 hours and 16 minutes, consuming 7,500 kilocalories on route.
  • He trained 100 miles per week, with 80-mile training runs once a month and completing a host of 50-mile and 100-km races to maintain his competitive edge.

He benefited from his life on the coast of California, USA, because Greece is similar in mountainous terrain, and warm, dry temperature. Unsurprisingly he felt at home in Greece, despite the jet-lag and illnesses from regular plane journeys. He also cross-trained a lot in the gym but never felt self-assured leading to race day.


What happened when Dean Karnazes ran the 2014 Spartathlon?

The annual Spartathlon consists of 153 miles (equivalent to almost 6 marathons) from Athens to Sparta, replicating part of Pheidippides’ legendary athletic mission 2,500 years ago.

At spectator points Karnazes had to sign autographs for his fans, fulfill interviews and be followed by constant photographers. When he was alone, he suffered nausea, hallucinations, and even an out-of-body experience (watching himself running outside of his body). He ran whilst asleep for brief moments and failed to consume many calories.

Although he wasn’t all that pleased with his performance he completed the race in 34 hours, 44 minutes and 49 seconds, finishing in 131st position.

Run Like Duck by Mark Atkinson: Book Review

This book review of Run Like Duck by Mark Atkinson answers the 15 most important questions every runner should know.

What is Run Like Duck?

Run Like Duck is an autobiographical book, which details the running journey of UK’s Mark Atkinson.

When was Run Like Duck published?

The paperback was published on 15 November 2018 by Sandstone Press.

Who is Mark Atkinson?

Mark is the author of Run Like Duck, a self-professed unathletic man from Milton Keynes, who began running when a friend introduced him to his local parkrun.

When and how did Mark start running?

Mark began running in early 2011 whilst in his early thirties. He began by using a run-walk strategy, under the cover of darkness. Thankfully, he persisted, despite the initial frustration and difficulty.

What were the first races Mark ran?

In his first year of running Mark ran the, then called, BUPA London 10k, the NSPCC Milton Keynes Half Marathon and the Run to the Beat Half Marathon  in London.

Where was Mark’s first marathon?

During that same year, Mark ran the Luton Marathon. Although he didn’t train adequately enough he persevered in wet and cold conditions to finish in 4 hours and 57 minutes. More significantly, it was the day he discovered the 100 Marathon Club.

What other significant marathons has Mark run?

He has run the London Marathon for charity, his local marathon in Milton Keynes, the Brighton Marathon, the Bournemouth Marathon and the New Forest Marathon, along with many others across the UK. Mark has also run numerous marathons abroad, including the Tallinn Marathon in Estonia, and the Paris Marathon.

What is Mark’s personal best time?

At the time of publication Mark’s personal record is 3:15:31.

Is Mark a member of the 100 Marathon Club?

Yes. In 6 years, and with plenty of determination and perseverance, Mark completed his 100th marathon, and joined an inspiring group of runners.

What running advice does Mark have for other runners?

Mark often thinks that if he spent more time focusing on specific races with plenty of training cycles beforehand he would improve his personal best time for the marathon. However, the excitement of his next race means sometimes he hasn’t even recovered before he stands on the starting line again.

He believes in rotating running shoes regularly and that pursuing athletic goals can’t be achieved at the same time as weight-loss goals.

As a coach I echo his wisdom; success is more likely if you stay determined on a single goal, and allow yourself enough time to be fully prepared for the challenge.

What running mistakes has Mark made?

He frequently cites that despite his extensive experience, he doesn’t run a consistent pace during marathons, as he tends to run too fast during the early miles. 

He also frequently eats McDonald’s breakfast meals as pre-race fuelling, along with chocolate and cola drinks on route. The wrong running clothing is another error he has made, as cotton t-shirts are not the best for allowing sweat to evaporate efficiently.

Has Mark ever run an ultramarathon?

Yes. Mark has run numerous ultramarathons throughout his running journey. His first ultramarathon was the Bewl Water Ultra. He ran the 37.5-mile course in 5 hours and 50 minutes. 

Other notable races he has completed include the Chiltern Wonderland 50, the South Downs Way 50 and the South Downs Way 100, the last of which he completed in 22 hours and 22 minutes.

What other running experiences has Mark enjoyed?

He is a fan of the Enigma-hosted races, and has run the Quadzilla, which consists of 4 marathons in 4 consecutive days. Endure 24 is another race he ran, which is a team relay event. He completed 8 laps, equivalent to 40 miles in total, with two and half hours rest in between efforts. 

He also advocates for the events that the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) host as there is less pressure to perform and they are well organised (and cheap) adventures.

Would you recommend runners to read Run Like Duck?

Absolutely. Mark’s account of his numerous running races is an inspiring read. Some of his stories will be familiar to any marathoner. Other times, his opinions will make you laugh or nod. But always, his endeavours remind you that from a humble beginning and with imperfect running form, any endurance feat is possible if you don’t overthink it.

Where can you buy the book?

According to a book price comparison tool you can buy Run Like Duck from Amazon, Abebooks and Wordery.

6 Elements to Improve Endurance Running

Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance (2018) by Alex Hutchinson


Theory

A traditional view of endurance is that the body is a ‘machine’, limited by the muscles’ ability to use energy and oxygen.

However, more recently, researchers such as Tim Noakes and Samuele Marcora have asserted that human limits are defined by the brain’s functions. Conscious or not, our mind senses the dangers of exerting ourselves too much and so guides our body’s ‘pace’ (otherwise known as ‘anticipatory regulation’).

Our sense of effort and ability to overcome our instincts to stop once we feel pain are crucial elements if we are to perform at our best. Researchers point to the finishing ‘sprint’ during a marathon as proof that our bodies always have a reserve of energy.

Practice

Pain is unavoidable, a complex and situation-dependant sensation, but, if we seek pain in training (e.g. run harder, faster workouts) our pain tolerance will increase.

The more hours we spend physically training our bodies, the better we can alter our minds to push ourselves faster and further.

Muscles

Brain fatigue and muscle fatigue are inseparable, but lactic acid isn’t the feeling of acid dissolving our muscles. It’s a cautionary signal created in the brain by nerve endings triggered only in the presence of certain metabolites.

Caffeine is an effective performance enhancer because it disables brain receptors that detect muscle fatigue.

Oxygen

The advantage that East African runners have originates from being born at altitude and having active childhoods. This means they can better maintain their brain’s oxygen supply due to possessing a greater number of thicker blood vessels that connect to the brain.

Heat

For every 100 calories we consume, it’s estimated we will generate at least 75 calories of heat. This means that to fully adapt to bodily heat, we should exercise repeatedly in hot conditions.

We will sweat more heavily and our blood volume will increase, resulting in our heart rate staying lower during exercise.

Thirst

If thirsty we should drink when we have the chance, but we shouldn’t obsess about it when we don’t, because any losses of less than 4% are unlikely to impair our endurance performance.

Fuel

We should never be under-fuelled at the start of a race, otherwise this will be a limiting factor in our performance. The brain uses fuel, and so having larger stores of glycogen is optimal.

An example is it only helps to consume a sports drink in runs shorter than 90 minutes if our body is low on fuel to begin with.

Brain Training

Ultimately, as athletes we need to better monitor our body’s reactions to training loads. The more we can predict pain, the more likely we are to feel impartial to it, and push through that feeling to make better micro-decisions during a race.


Runner Alex Hutchinson

Hutchinson’s own views as a runner, after completing his first marathon in a time of 2:44:48, are useful to ensure we best implement the advice from the countless studies he compiled. He wishes he implemented more positive self-talk. Over many years, this will inevitably translate into greater self-belief.

More than anything else, running lots and holding greater faith in achieving personal goals will give us the best chance of athletic success.

Outlasting Ultra Pain for Great Causes

Book Review of RUN! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss (2011) by Dean Karnazes


Humble Philosophy

 

Karnazes has built his life around a pursuit of adventure. His vivacious appetite for pushing his limits, attempting new, and often inconceivable challenges, has no boundaries.

He views running as both a cause of, and cure for, pain, but also a means of giving back to the community that has so dearly supported him.

Due to his natural introversion, he uses “Karno” as his alter ego, never accepting he has any special skills or talent, simply an indomitable will to keep moving when there is every reason not to.

He does the basics right though, preparing for every race meticulously, conditioning his mind to embrace the unexpected, and appreciating family time and a non-materialistic lifestyle.

Extreme Adventures

 

Influenced by his Greek father’s stubborn, but always supportive, demeanor, Karnazes tells the stories of races and runs that require nothing less than his total dedication and sacrifice.

After almost dying during his first attempt at the Badwater 135 he manages to finish the following year after being on the verge of a coma. He then overcomes almost being run over, escapes flash flooding, lightning and snowstorms to complete the brutal race seven more times.

He attempts to break the world record for running the most miles on a treadmill in 48 hours live on TV. Despite the constant onlookers, sleep deprivation and extreme chafing he lasts longer than the belt he runs on, which becomes slack halfway through the challenge. Although he fails to break the world record, his 212 miles is a remarkable achievement.

He becomes the 2008 champion of the 4 Deserts Championship after completing four multi-day, self-supported races crossing 155 miles of the most savage wilderness. He wins one of the races and places well in all the others to become the first of two men to complete every race in a calendar year.

Other highlights include:

  • Failing to finish the Leadville Trail 100 miler twice before overcoming a mental burden and vomiting to complete the high altitude race.
  • Running 354 miles from Australia’s highest summit to its largest city in six days.
  • Running across the United States of America on TV, accumulating 75 days of 12-hour, 40-50 mile runs, wearing out 53 pairs of shoes on the pain-filled route from California to New York.
  • Running the Hood to Coast, 197-mile 12-person relay race, all by himself, to celebrate his 40th birthday, equivalent to 45 hours of running non-stop.
  • Running ‘on water’ in a Hydro Bronc, and almost coming to blows with a sea beast.

Inspirational Mentor

 

Throughout the book Karno explores the journey of his best friend Topher, from being a non-runner to quickly becoming an obsessive ultrarunner like Karno. Skipping the marathon distance altogether Topher races 50km and 50 mile races until he beats Karno at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), a 103-mile circumnavigation of Europe’s highest peak.

Karno’s athletic feats are awe-inspiring, and yet it isn’t his seemingly unending tolerance for pain for which he should be admired most. Instead of fame and money, Karno has used his amazing ability to help others.

Whether raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity or placing his own money under random car’s windscreens as he runs by, he is a community-minded man, who continues to look for the truth within himself and the people who are crazy enough to join him.

Solutions to the Uphill Battle of Ultramarathons

Running up that Hill: The Highs and Lows of Going that Bit Further (2018) by Vassos Alexander


The famous BBC sports radio presenter and journalist Vassos Alexander built on the success of his first book by taking readers through his adventures as an ultramarathoner.

After his first race at the 2010 Great North Run he became addicted to running marathons with the aim of running under 3 hours. However, his pursuit of this road racing dream led him to realise that athletic obsession can quickly become stressful and draining, a contrast to the reasons he entered the sport initially.

Although he achieved his time goal at the 2016 London Marathon, he favoured ultramarathons as his main challenge.

Alexander ran his first 100 mile trail race, the South Downs Way, in June 2016, before volunteering the following year because of the wonderful atmosphere. He followed this up with an attempt at the Dragon’s Back Race, the toughest 5-day foot race in the world, through Welsh foggy wilderness and mountains. But with a lot of ‘technical terrain’ (stretches of land that must be walked) and a high ankle sprain he was forced to stop after two days of racing. He learnt that a lack of specific training on rocky terrain and a persistent injury can’t be ignored.

Other highlights included his joint 7th finish at the 2017 Mendip Marauder 50 miler and a training run alone that covered the entire 67-mile perimeter of the Isle of Wight.

His crowning glory was completion of the 2017 Spartathlon, a 153-mile race from Athens to Sparta, which recreates Pheidippides’ epic journey 2,500 years ago to preserve Greek freedom, democracy and civilisation. He had no crew and realised he had started the race too quickly.

But the many villages, schools and aid stations he passed helped him overcome the 4,000 ft mountain he had to ascend and descend. Even the severe pain he encountered in his ankle was enough to stop him making progress. He squatted, took magnesium supplements and even had a massage in order to keep his legs moving.

His astonishing feat of endurance was summed up 40 hours later when he still couldn’t move his legs, requiring a Zimmer frame.

Running Up That Hill book cover

Naturally friendly and approachable, Alexander also retold many stories and advice from ultramarathon race directors and some of the very best ultrarunners on the planet, such as Scott Jurek and Mimi Anderson.

  • Charlie Engle (the Running Man) believed ultrarunning is a great method of self-discovery, which fundamentally improves one’s mental health.
  • Ben Smith (the British man who ran 401 marathons in 401 days for an anti-bullying charity) shared that it took 50 consecutive marathons before his body adjusted to the physical stress of the challenge, but his serotonin levels were severely depleted.
  • Jasmin Paris (elite fell runner and record holder) valued her impressive ultrarunning less than her work researching cures for cancer.
  • Nicky Spinks (elite fell runner and record holder) acknowledged that her experience with breast cancer inspired her to be a positive role model, and that running helped her better overcome life’s discomfort.
  • Dean Karnazes (the Ultramarathon Man) revealed his most memorable running moment as his 10-year-old daughter running hard during the last kilometre of her first 10k race despite the pain.

The book even had the foreword from former elite triathlete Chrissie Wellington, who emphasised trying in spite of low confidence (which for most runners is an inevitability at some point in their life).

Alexander ultimately discovered that ultramarathons will always cause problems that runners have to solve. His advice was that if one’s thoughts remain positive then not only will solutions appear but the journey to the finish line will be more than worth the effort.


Adventure Racing Dog

Arthur: The dog who crossed the jungle to find a home (2016) by Mikael Lindnord with Val Hudson


Journey to the Extreme

Lindnord grew up in Sweden where conditions are ideal for biking, skiing and trekking. But it was his 15-month compulsory military service, with its demanding missions, that strengthened his mind and body. After losing his place in his local ice hockey team he pursues a sporting career in adventure racing.

The book details Lindnord’s journey as a member of Sweden’s Team Peak Performance, during the 2014 Adventure Racing World Championships. Held in Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest, competitors cover 430 miles of treacherous terrain. During the six days, Lindnord and his three teammates overcome altitude fluctuations, extreme fatigue, navigational errors, severe injuries and broken equipment. They finish in twelth position.

Additional Team Member

But it was not because of the team’s impressive athleticism that the book was written. When a stray dog attaches himself to Lindnord during the latter stages of the race the dog is dying from open wounds. Lindnord names him Arthur after the heroics of the legendary King Arthur and treats him as another team member.

Arthur shows a serenity unique to animals. His survival is as impressive as Lindnord and his team’s race performance as they all deal with the harsh conditions to reach the finish line.

The consequences of keeping Arthur once the race has finished are life-changing. The heart-warming story is picked up by so many media outlets and involves government departments and numerous vets in order to clear Arthur’s passage to Sweden. The surgeries, quarantine, interviews and travelling prove that Arthur is a strong and spirited animal, and eventually he finds a loving home with Lindnord’s young children.

He even runs with his owner, much healthier and happier than in the wild. A legacy has also been created through the Arthur Foundation, set up to support the prevention of the abuse of stray dogs in Ecuador.

Ultimate Lessons

This highly entertaining and satisfying read is similar to Dion Leonard’s tale Finding Gobi, where during an extreme race a stray dog becomes an inseparable companion to a racer.

The description of the adventure racing compares to passages in Charlie Engle’s book Running Man and evidences Lindnord’s skill to continually push his comfort zone well beyond the average athlete’s limit. Also, his organising of adventure races with his wife Helena reveals his commitment and passion for his sport.

Arthur’s loyal and kind nature fits perfectly with the unwavering endurance of a superb athlete.

The back cover of the book 'Arthur''

How to Run

How to Run… Improve Your Speed, Stamina and Enjoyment from Fun Running to Full Marathons (2010) by Hugh Jones


Jones’ book is filled with practical and down-to-earth advice on how to maximise your running.

He reminds me of the positive attitude needed to be a better runner, but is frank in his assessment that running should not be over-complicated. Instead he highlights how running is influenced mainly by willpower and fundamentally natural movements.

Similar to other sports, athletes must simply dedicate time to build the necessary strength in the muscles and joints in order to improve performances. Running on variable surfaces such as grass is an effective strategy, but the application of adequate and progressive training and recovery, over a long period of time, is essential.

Historically, sport was viewed as a pursuit to strengthen character, relying on self-motivation and resulting in personal reward.

It is therefore essential that running is seen as a method of discovering more about oneself. After all, running can be measured not only in statistics but in the development of mental conditioning and self-worth.

For me, Jones’ book outlines an approach that is easily forgotten; running is a simple act and should be used to develop your physical fitness and mental sharpness.

The Contents of How to Run by Hugh Jones

Advice to Optimise Your Running

Running Science: Optimising Training and Performance
(2017) edited by John Brewer


Fantastic Facts

  • Running performance is greatly determined by how much and how quickly horizontal force can be applied to the body.
  • On calm days the energy cost of running to combat air resistance is still approximately 8% for sprinting, 4% for middle-distance running and 2% for marathon running.
  • There is no additional benefit in exceeding 60-70 miles of training per week for a recreational runner (or 70-110 miles for elite runners).
  • Exercise is an effective strategy to regulate and improve mood, which supports creative thinking. Successful performances are therefore linked to strong mental and physical health.

Training Tips and Errors

  • Avoid straightening your knees on landing, striking the ground in front of your body, swinging your trailing foot and leaning too far back whilst running because it decreases running economy.
  • Run on a variety of surfaces to create greater adaptations in bones and soft tissues.
  • Avoid taking an absence from running (unless due to injury or mental fatigue) for four weeks or more. Cardiac output may fall by 8% and VO2 max by up to 15%.
  • As exercise intensity increases concentrate on the components of running, such as form, foot strike and stride length, to run closer to your maximum.
  • If you listen to music whilst you run, ensure the tunes incite emotions appropriate to the situation; listen to calming beats on easy runs and personally motivational songs during more important workouts.
  • Avoid wearing clothes made from materials such as cotton and wool that will keep sweat from evaporating whilst running. Instead choose wicking fabrics such as polyester to prevent overheating.
  • Wear sunglasses whilst running on sunny days to ensure your eyes are relaxed, which is crucial for performance.

Famous Contributions of Sir R Bannister

Twin Tracks: The Autobiography (2014) by Roger Bannister


Born in 1929, Roger Bannister grew up in Harrow, Bath and Hampstead, winning numerous races from half-mile to cross country distances in his teenage years. He later competed for Oxford, whilst studying medicine, where he would meet other top British runners.

His race reports are fascinating insights into a professional and humble man. He sheds light on his rising journey to become an Olympic medallist, only to finish fourth in a dramatic race at the Helsinki Games in 1952. This was due to exhaustion from running the 1500m heat and semi-final in the two consecutive days leading up to the final.

However, his determination to overcome the damning press and realise his potential meant he continued to train smart towards new, but no less ambitious, goals. During his time winning four AAA (British) Championships in four years, and breaking the British record for the mile, he set his sights on breaking the four-minute mile, a feat the Australian John Landy was also close to achieving.

On 6 May 1954 at the age of 25 he did just that, using his two best friends Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway to pace him at different stages along the four laps of the Iffley Road Track at Oxford University. He ran the first and last lap in under 60 seconds each, and finished in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. Significant factors contributed to his success, despite the abnormally windy day:

  • 5 rest days beforehand.

  • Lighter shoes than he was used to.

  • Ability to relax at the crucial moments of the run.

  • Willingness to wait for weather conditions to improve.

  • Positive encouragement from his friends, the crowd and one-time coach Franz Stampfl.

Then he beat Landy in the 1 mile race at the Commonwealth Games of 1954 in Vancouver with a lifetime best of 3:58.8. Bannister ended his impressive career by winning the 1500m gold medal at the European Championships in Switzerland in another lifetime best and championship record of 3:43.8.

In his book he reflects on his achievements during his decade-long running career

  • Genetics played a role in his development as a runner; he reached six foot in height and possessed strengthened legs that were naturally long in comparison to his torso. His father was also a strong runner at school.

  • Specific training with single aims that balanced well with work, family and social commitments. His training was refined over many years that consisted of either 25 miles per week, or 4-5 sessions of 40 minutes per week, incorporating a lot of fartlek and interval training.

His advice to readers to improve their running is intriguing and pragmatic:

  • Run with friends to make the hard work of training more enjoyable.

  • Find a knowledgeable coach that inspires.

  • Experiment with training but also play to strengths.

  • Learn to harness natural instincts of pacing.

But it is Bannister’s position as consultant neurologist at two major hospitals in London, and as senior advisor to organisations, such as the Sports Council and the International Council of Sport and Physical Education, that warrant even greater admiration. His work paved the way for greater funding and provision of superb sporting facilities that support greater participation at every ability level. The various honours he has received are a token of his life’s extraordinary contribution.

Why Everyone Should Consider Running

Get Running (2011) by Matt Roberts


Roberts believes in the transformational qualities of running, referring to its ability to incite positive emotions, bring new understanding to life and find otherwise unexplored places in the world.

He outlines a concise history of modern running, starting in the 1960s by Arthur Lydiard, an influential ‘jogger’ from New Zealand. He proposes that running is the quickest and simplest means of getting fitter and losing weight. The appeal of fundraising and running ultramarathons only heightens people’s natural instinct to lead healthier lives.

Read more

Mitigating the Challenges of Ultramarathons

Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel (2013) by Jason Robillard


This guide to ultrarunning is down-to-earth and unique. Robillard offers a fresh perspective on running factors such as distance and cut-off times, terrain and weather, and pacing and strategy. It is the purposeful physical advice and experimental mental training that stands out.

Calorie Consumption

Robillard urges runners not to be reliant on eating food during long runs as this can be a distraction and also dictate a certain pace range. Instead he advises eating as little as possible before and during training runs so runners can better utilise their fat stores to cope with extremely long distances.

However, when deciding to eat he explains that personal cravings should not be ignored, and that chia seeds can be a nutritious option on the go, as is adopted by the famous Tarahumaras.

Practice Every Aspect of Racing

Robillard encourages runners to take a systematic approach to replicating every running situation. For example, he advises runners to fall, on purpose, whilst running slowly in order to practice breaking the impact by rolling with arms out and elbows bent.

Enthusiasm to experiment is essential for runners if they are to understand what aspects help, and hinder, during an endurance event. Enjoyment and performance should both be enhanced as a result of understanding one’s individual responses to training stimuli.

His race strategies for ultramarathons also include walking, advocating that runners should become fast walkers. Walking enables runners to better survive harsh race conditions, by continuing to move forward.

Managing Pain

Robillard also outlines a no-nonsense attitude to pain.

Runners should accept, embrace and learn to enjoy the aches that occur during a race. His positivity originates from his belief that most pain is temporary and can be dealt with before it flares up. Writing a list of the regions that may hurt and a race strategy of fixing problems, long before setting off from the start line, can really help.

An effective technique is to train in every mood, especially when you do not feel like running, either through tiredness or hunger. Another is to speed up when in pain, if for no other reason than to respond differently to natural instincts, this breaks the monotony of running.


Although unconventional Robillard offers invaluable advice on how to view and tackle ultramarathons. Ultimately, he believes endurance challenges are akin to difficult life events; the sharper you react the more empowered you are to succeed.

Embracing the Fear of Ultramarathons

Running and Stuff (2015) by James Adams


Motivation

Using a ‘stream of consciousness‘ writing style, Adams relays the details of how he tackled some of the toughest ultra races in the world.

Uninspired by running marathons, Adams becomes motivated by other runners’ abilities to overcome intense and prolonged pain. After running his first ultramarathons in 2007 (the Tring 2 Town Ultra) and 2008 (the Grand Union Canal Race) he learns his body can cope with high mileage weeks and racing frequently.

He writes a frank and humorous blog to chronicle his journey towards running extreme distances.

Experience

The Briton Adams completes multi-day races as well as the famous Spartathlon 246 km race (twice) and the Badwater 135 mile race with fearless stubbornness. Rather than spending his life attaining material possessions, these incredible feats of endurance are his way of sharpening his mind and collecting stories.

He compares his experiences to giving birth and believes injuries caused by running can be fixed by more running. He enjoys regular banter with other runners and meets many people that assist him, a measure he finds more important than the display of a watch. He finds that over time, training and running for long distances will squash his nerves and desire to quit.

His adventure concludes with a gruelling 3,220-mile run across 13 states of America, which takes him 70 days, in which time he requires hospital treatment for severe dehydration. He also suffers days of post-run depression.

Guidance

Despite his laid-back and daring persona, Adams discovers important lessons on the most effective means to train for ultramarathons.

  1. Run marathon races as training.

  2. Focus on how you feel whilst running, because this determines the outcome of a run.

  3. Always consider how you want to feel the day after a race, as this will ensure you embrace your weaknesses early and spend time overcoming them.

  4. Races require you to become ‘emotional imperfectionists’, willing to risk failure so you can achieve indescribable highs.

Ultimately, Adams proves that to run extreme distances you do not need natural talent or tactical mastery, just a love of running combined with a lack of fear.

Advice and Benefits of Running Off-Road

Off-Road Running (2002) by Sarah Rowell


Benefits

Running off-road

  • strengthens bones and joints by forcing the body to adjust to ever-changing conditions;
  • prevents physical staleness, psychological boredom and overtraining by giving runners variety in training workouts;
  • offers freedom to explore and enjoy less inhabited and less polluted environments.

Trail and fell running in particular covers traversing terrain such as mountains, hills and moors. Rowell urges runners to be sensible to minimise risks and to respect the countryside. This means runners should follow a progressive plan and start by alternating running with walking to familiarise with landscape.

Advice

For off-road runners the pelvis and ankles are the most important platforms, because stability is the ability to control the whole range of motion of the joints.

Plyometric exercises such as hopping, small jumps (including sideways) and quick foot movements. The aim is to maintain a higher knee lift and bouncier stride, ideal for running on uneven surfaces.

Running Research

Rowell also relays fascinating and useful scientific evidence.

  • 70-80% of endurance adaptation and performance is genetically determined.
  • The thinnest runners have an abundance of fat stores, energy equivalent to running over 1,000 marathons.
  • The reason runners suffer from stomach problems after eating soon before a run is more blood moves from the digestive system to the muscles compared to at rest.

Off-Road Running

The Meaningful History of Running

For the Love of Running: A Companion (2017 edition) by Paul Owen


History of Running

Evidence of organised running, taking place almost 6,000 years ago, has been found in Ancient Egypt. Runners were then used widely in Ancient Greece to courier messages huge distances, long before professional runners existed in the 1700s.

Events such as Paper Chase consisted of a lead runner (the ‘hare’) laying a paper trail for other runners (the ‘hounds’) to chase. This would soon lead to the formation of modern running clubs, some of which contain ‘harriers’ (meaning hounds) in their names. Modern sports such as rugby and football also have their roots in running.

Meaning of Running

As famous coach Bill Bowerman highlighted, if you can find personal attachment in running then life will become richer

Running distracts you from any negativity in your life (attributed to Monte Davis) and motivates you to make more effort to achieve greater results (explained by Oprah). If you listen to you body you will find over time you can tolerate more and better respect your limits (outlined by John Bingham).

Running requires a masterful control of emotions and reasoning, where the only enemy is oneself (suggested by Glenn Cunningham).

Fascinating Facts

Now that marathon races are held across the globe, a lucrative industry that produces impressive records has developed.

The oldest races in the USA are the Buffalo Turkey Trot in New York (since 1896), the Boston Marathon (since 1897), and the Yonkers Marathon (since 1907). The world’s longest standing ultramarathons include the Comrades Marathon (since 1921), the Pieter Korkie 50km (since 1948) and the London 2 Brighton 100km (since 1951).

  • The longest streak in the same event was set by Mike McLeod in 1989, having won the Saltwell Harriers 10k sixteen times in a row
  • The UK’s David and Linda Major ran 1,050 marathons together as a married couple setting a new world record. 
  • In 1978, the quickest marathon run barefoot was set by India’s Shivnath Singh in  2:12:00
  • The largest footrace ever recorded was in the Philippines, with over 116,000 finishers.

Sadly, throughout history, running has also reflected gender and racial inequalities, as well as conflict between professionals and amateurs. Thankfully, more than ever  before, people are reaping the  personal and communal benefits of the sport.

Alternative Measures of Running Success

Your Pace or Mine? (2016) by Lisa Jackson


Jackson’s book is packed with marathon race reports and humbling stories of other runners. It is a celebration of empowerment through running, a means to discover oneself, appreciate life and connect with others.

Equality and Diversity

Running is a non-materialistic and peaceful pursuit, and despite the differences in runners’ limits Jackson treats them with equal importance.

She points out that you can still love running even when it is painful and hard work, because the sport makes life feel longer and develops one’s self-confidence. Jackson is testimony that doggedness is crucial if runners are to complete marathons, and the regret of not finishing can be inspirational.

Most importantly, Jackson views walking in races as a smart strategy and not a sign of weakness. This mindset has helped countless runners complete incredible feats of endurance.

Humour

Like Laura Fountain (from Lazy Girl Running Podcast), Jackson cites laughter and smiling as an effective motivator. She also suggests that enjoying running is real success.

She believes that inner strength can carry you any distance, as long as you remain positive. To do this she says runners should always stay humble and respect the distance and fellow runners.

Dedication

Jackson reminds me that running in honour of people close to you is a meaningful act (as I did for my grandparents at my fourth Chelmsford Marathon). This can support the grieving process and motivate you to do what others cannot.

The book contains quotes from famous runners such as Pam Reed, Chrissie Wellington and Zola Budd. Regardless of your finishing time or position, the memories of running and meeting others are essential if the sport is to transform your life.

She also shares personal moments that I have experienced including sleeping whilst wearing a medal and creating a running CV.


Jackson takes a uniquely logical approach to endurance races, believing that spending as much time on your feet is the purpose.

Her top running tip is to visualise inhaling confidence and exhaling doubt

Lisa Jackson book

New Advice from Neuroscience

Katwala draws on extensive research to summarise important techniques that improve sports performance. Although many studies refer to the hand-eye coordination of ball sports, the book contains relevant and interesting advice for runners.


Key Findings from Studies

Your vision must be trained as hard as your physique to fulfil your athletic potential. A major difference between amateur and elite athletes is the latter’s ability to track and act upon the slightest of movements.

Your vision is closely related to your mental strength and agility. Thus the stronger the mind, the less stress will drain your energy.

Distraction from any task at hand is better than thinking too much about it. However, visualisation in training can change your physical make-up; thinking of becoming stronger can actually make you stronger.

Sporting Advice

You must learn to transform inevitable nerves into fuel. You can do this by training under controlled self-induced pressure, such as placing an outcome on your performance (reward), adding other mental tasks during your exercise, or modifying your workouts regularly to feel more challenged. All these techniques will build your mental resilience and thus prepare you better for racing conditions.

Sport is a complex pursuit for people to master. To make sporting skills less susceptible to interference by external factors or your conscious mind you need to make actions so implicit that they become instinctual. According to Angela Lee Duckworth, by adopting a positive growth mindset and seeking different circumstances to test your abilities you will develop a strong passion for the sport. Deliberate practice sustained over a long period of time will mean you have a greater chance of success.

Running Advice

Runners give up long before they reach their metabolic and muscular limits. The reason is that they have exhausted their brain. Professor Samuele Marcora explains the ‘psychological model of endurance’, a theory that purports runners must train to reduce their perception of effort.

Tips to reduce the perception of effort include

  • not relying on your watch for every run
  • rinsing your mouth out with a carbohydrate-rich drink
  • smiling as you run and especially after work or a long day
  • controlling your breathing

Playing video games also builds mental stamina because of their repetitive nature, and improves memory and attention span.


This book supports the notion that being an expert in your sport can have its disadvantages. Sometimes having less information (or forgetting what you know) can actually aid performance by ensuring you are focusing on your natural rhythm.

Expert Advice from Ultrarunner Lisa Tamati

Philosophy from Experience

Lisa Tamati, born in New Zealand, embodies the spirit of extreme running. She views overcoming challenges as the perfect method of finding her personal strengths and weaknesses. Her journey reveals what is most important in life; the state of happiness.

Seeking New Tests

Tamati reports on the numerous major ultramarathons she has conquered, including the Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Distance Running Championships, Northburn 100 mile, Northface 100 km, and La Ultra – The High. Throughout these fascinating accounts she offers practical racing advice.

  • Excessive training too soon before a race will inevitably spoil the important performance.
  • The teachings from previous races are useless if the correct pacing strategy on race day is not followed.
  • Regardless of the race length the last 20 km (12.4 miles) is crucial for success, so save 50% of energy reserves for this last stretch.
  • 6-12 months of recovery after ultramarathons is ideal, but if this is not possible focus on non-weight bearing exercises such as swimming.

In the 4 Deserts Sahara race she finds becoming anxious over factors out of her control uses too much energy. She mentally blocks out doubts to improve her chances of achieving the goal. Extreme races require this intense concentration more than any other pursuit.

Tamati learns during the Gobi March that athletes running in extreme conditions must accept that death remains a possibility. She does counter this by advising that there is no humiliation in quitting, because overcoming the fear to try is a proud accomplishment. Finishing times should not be fixated on as they are not a priority.

Finally, she demonstrates her immense determination when she runs the entire length of New Zealand in 2009, proving that ultrarunning is a team sport, where the crew can achieve their dreams too.

Book Review: Marathon Man by Rob Young

Anything can ignite your dream

Rob Young, an ex-soldier and former youth triathlete for Great Britain, undertakes an incredible journey to test his endurance. His quest to break the record for the most marathons in one year is inspired by a ridiculous bet made with his fiancée. His drive comes from his desire to improve the lives of underprivileged children.

Based in London, Young begins running in the early mornings around Richmond Park.

He soon loses weight, suffers knee pain and sleep deprivation as he balances a full-time job and family commitments.

He then broadens his challenge by running official marathon races across the UK, including Halstead, Milton Keynes, Coniston and London. He also runs ultramarathons such as the North Downs Way 100, Equinox 24-hour race and the Race to the Stones.

As he does not have his own car he relies on public transport, friends and strangers to get to and from races. His impulsive personality and lack of preparation in fuelling and accommodation means he often gets lost, on and off the race course.

He ends his adventure by running the Race Across America, a 3,080-mile route starting in California and ending at the Atlantic Ocean in Virginia. Young suffers throughout the race, disagreeing with the organisers and being forced to rest after his left leg swells.

Overall, from April 2014 until June 2015, Young completes an extraordinary 420 marathons/ultramarathons in 420 days.

No challenge is without consequence

Despite his remarkable feat there are some negative repercussions. Young loses valuable family time, which strains the relationship with his fiancée.

He tests his friendships as he requires countless massages and physiotherapy, as well as a place to stay once he loses his job and his flat. The expense of the endeavour is high because of the extra food he needs, often calorie-dense meals and high in fat.

Your past never has to hold you back

As a child he is severely abused by his father, physically and psychologically. Although horrific, Young claims the experience taught him to control the pain with visualisation and to better appreciate his life.

He raises over £200,000 for charities close to his heart, including the NSPCC, Dreams Come True and Great Ormond Street Hospital.


Accomplishing a dream

Young completes his mission (and breaks the record) by following a sensible strategy: race the first half, then taper off in the second half. He has fun and takes a laid back approach to reduce the stress. He also provides valuable running tips such as run downhill with arms at ear height for better steering and reduce pace in order to effectively absorb calories.

Young’s story is an extreme example of how a person can transform from couch potato to relentless endurance athlete.

Usain Bolt in his Own Words

The story behind the legendary sprinter is as fascinating as the man’s charisma. In his laid back and humorous tone readers will gain inspiration from Bolt’s life.


Fitting into Jamaican Culture

According to Bolt he grew up in a liberal society, where there is a slower pace of life that includes casual cursing and sex. Bolt is a self-professed Mummy’s boy and was hit with a belt by his father for any lazy behaviour. Despite his nation’s impressive track and field tradition and coaching Bolt spent much of his childhood playing cricket and video games.

His running journey only begins when he realises sprinters have greater control when competing, compared to team sportsmen who rely upon selection decisions. As a teenager he was soon winning 200m and 400m races with ease. Even though he remains a joker before, during and after racing he knew his limitations; he did not pursue long-distance running and prioritised 100m.

Major Obstacles to Ultimate Focus

Bolt becomes dedicated to his sport after losing at a regional championship. Inspired by past sprinters such as Michael Johnson he develops a champion’s mindset by staying relaxed and confident in competition.

Despite his rising status he struggles to balance his social life due to his love of dancing in nightclubs. He changes coaches, overcomes serious injuries, including  scoliosis, which requires him to prioritise core exercises, and even experiences boos from his home crowd.

He offers insights into the major races where he wins gold medals, breaks world records and cements his fame. He also shares his opinions on other elite sprinters such as Tyson Gay, Justin Gatlin, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell.

Returning Stronger from Tragedy

Then, in 2009, Bolt is involved in a car crash. He is fortunate to escape without serious harm. The next few seasons are difficult, culminating in disqualification in the World Championships 100m final. His initial anger and disappointment reminds him to focus on his roots. Shortly afterwards he wins the 200m gold medal in a relaxed style, a sign of a great performer.

Bolt continues to astonish audiences across the world, viewing prize money as a secondary motive.


Throughout his life Bolt favours freedom through individual sport, discipline from his father and coaches, and improvement through patience and consistent training. Bolt is unique, not only because of his relentless hunger to win but because of his universal appeal.

Book Review: ‘Keep on Running’ by Phil Hewitt

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Keep on Running details Hewitt’s multiple experiences of running marathons in London, New York, Paris, Rome, Dublin and Chichester.

Hewitt focuses on how marathon running is a selfish pursuit as the distance demands sustained effort and time. Yet the encouragement of spectators ensures a humbling environment.

I can relate to many of his wise observations:

  • The first marathon is extra special because there is little pressure for time or placement, as it is just about finishing.
  • The marathon distance must be respected otherwise you will suffer severely.
  • A bloated stomach and lack of rest can be huge limiting performance factors.
  • Personal sporting glory is always within reach for those that pursue new goals.
  • Running different events across the world, particularly in the big cities, are fun adventures.
  • There will always be challenging moments, but these frustrations can motivate you to keep running to the finish line.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a snapshot of various marathons around the globe and to discover an honest assessment of many aspects of running races.

Book Review: ‘Finding Gobi’ by Dion Leonard

Finding Gobi is the real-life journey of how an Australian ultramarathoner living in Scotland adopted a stray dog called Gobi. As Leonard competes in the 2016 Gobi March, a 155-mile, 7-day stage ultramarathon held in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and China, he unexpectedly attracts a small canine follower.

Despite fierce sandstorms, scorching heat and deep water Leonard and Gobi stick together. The loveable dog accumulates over 70 miles of running in three stages without eating.

This impressive feat is only the beginning.

In the months following the race Leonard struggles to overcome greater obstacles, once Gobi goes missing. The overwhelming public support and global media attention raises over £20,000 through crowdfunding. Leonard organises a major search party, which takes weeks and sees him witness the unwavering commitment and also rude disinterest of the local people. Gobi is eventually found, but has a damaged hip. Leonard is forced to take risks as he rents rundown accommodation, takes a sabbatical and waits many months for Gobi’s medical checks and travel permits to clear. Even the journey across China and through Europe back home is fraught with delays.

The book offers advice on running ultramarathons, some more obvious than others.

Competitors should never carry food in cans due to the unnecessary weight, and racing strategies should be built around pacing steadily without exhausting the body. There is also an etiquette to racing: any unfair advantage should be rebalanced during the race, as strength and endurance, not cunningness and deceit, are the true measures of success.

This supports the community spirit of the ultrarunning circuit, which is demonstrated through Leonard’s relationship with Tommy Chen, a Taiwanese competitor, and the tale of Cliff Young, a former Australian farmer and ultrarunner.

Ultimately, multi-stage ultramarathons are painful and expensive experiences, but with expert medical staff, the races are life-changing.

Leonard also includes an honest account of his childhood in the Australian outback, where traditional farming values often cement family bonds. However, his father, who Leonard later discovers is his stepfather, dies when Leonard is nine. He grows up an outsider, as his relationship with his mother deteriorates and never fully recovers. Winning extreme running races, after being overweight as an adult, becomes a major motivator to reinvent himself.

The heart-warming story proves that ultramarathons can have a far greater impact not only on the finisher but on the world (and a small dog).

Book Review: ‘Swim Bike Run’ by Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee

Swim Bike Run is the story of the Brownlee brothers, the famous British ex-World Triathlon Champions. It culminates in the London 2012 Olympic Triathlon race, where both vied for the gold medal on home soil.

Early in life they were encouraged to pursue running before, during and after school hours. Unsurprisingly they formed a positive association with exercise.

Interestingly, their fast development as athletes was facilitated by older athletes and mentors.

Proven training advice is outlined too, including racing with others of similar ability, setting short-term motivational goals and maintaining consistent training volumes and intensities. They remind me that putting in greater effort will yield greater fitness rewards.

They advise that training should have a purpose, but enjoyment should not be sacrificed, as this is how high performance levels are sustained.

It is an honest account of the relationship between two competitive brothers with different personalities. Both show their love for each other and passion for their sport in unique, but no less valuable, ways (one more isolated, the other more inclusive).

They also reveal that by training faster than race pace they can adapt when conditions are harsher. They also run every day, often twice: 35 minutes for recovery and two hours for endurance.

Throughout the book the Brownlees have to overcome many obstacles, including injury, doubt and personal conflict to excel in various races. They remind me that at the elite level there is a huge amount of training structure and race tactics, and that although winning races is the best feeling one must move on quickly to compete at the next one. The constant interchanging of the brothers’ perspectives flows well and their obsession with their discipline is always evident.

I learnt that triathlon requires athletes to prioritise efficiency. Success comes from swimming and cycling hard enough to compete, but still conserving energy for a strong run.

Book Review: ‘A Life Without Limits’ by Chrissie Wellington

Surround oneself with supportive people.

A Life Without Limits reveals how Britain’s Chrissie Wellington became one of the world’s most successful Ironman triathletes. Throughout her journey she demonstrates a hunger to push her physical and mental capabilities and achieve remarkable ambitions. She uses an experienced coach and surrounds herself with other dedicated triathletes. Despite this she feels isolated and mistreated for long periods. She also doubts herself, particularly when she is not at peak fitness. But the quality of her training and uncomplicated diet ensures she makes the most of her talent.

Replicate race conditions in training.

She advises that for training sessions to be most effective, course conditions and the level of concentration should replicate races. Her fearless competitiveness and addiction to training hard have also made her a more stable and relatable person. She encourages others to focus on fighting the limits that the brain often imposes.

Prioritise improving one’s athleticism.

Wellington’s incredible story makes me think of the huge sacrifices and unrelenting determination it takes to become the best in the world. She is a reminder that to fulfil your potential you have to give everything to the pursuit. I agree with her philosophy that self-improvement, rather than perfection, is the most important measure of success as an athlete and as a person.

Her four Ironman World Championships, undefeated race record and world record performance, prove the importance of developing an elite mindset and habits. This requires many years of finishing every training session and race without energy to spare.

Book Review: ‘Adventureman’ by Jamie McDonald

Following a dream is tough but rewarding.

Adventureman relays Jamie’s 10-month unsupported journey across the breadth of Canada, ending in early 2014. By running a marathon a day for 200 consecutive days he raised £250,000 for children’s hospitals.

Anyone can support your mission.

Despite the harsh and treacherous conditions Jamie maintained a positive outlook and open heart.

He encountered many strangers who supported him with either food, donations, accommodation or encouragement. Although some view Jamie’s trek as crazy and life-threatening he proves that dreaming big can not only achieve a personal record but positively affect the lives of others.

Jamie uses his strength of character, high pain threshold and fearlessness to great effect throughout his incredible adventure. Jamie also outlines his philosophy on education, recovery and community spirit.

Running can be a moral act.

Jamie’s story excites my imagination to undertake an amazing feat of my own. He reminds me that endurance running is travelling and can promote modern altruism, demonstrated through the Super Hero Foundation, a charity he co-founded. His lack of planning is bold, and teaches me that uncertainty is a natural feeling that should be harnessed. I had never heard of Terry Fox before but Jamie is another contemporary runner that raises awareness for important causes.

Jamie continues to make a tangible difference. The world record he set in 2012 for the longest time riding a stationary bike non-stop (over 268 hours) proves that if you are brave you can accomplish astonishing acts.