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.

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.


3 Training Principles from Ultramarathoner Lee Grantham

Lee Grantham’s recent stardom on social media and being a genuine contender at top ultramarathon races is testament to his strength of staying true to himself.

But what stands out about the Mancunian’s training approach?

1. Cross-Trains to Build Mileage

Grantham may be a full-time athlete, but he doesn’t spend all his time running. He instead complements his 60 miles per week (an achievable target for some recreational runners) with substantially more cycling.1

At around 150 miles per week, Grantham is improving and maintaining his aerobic capabilities while reducing his injury risks. This strategy gives him the perfect opportunity to keep mixing up his workouts, whilst maximising his most important energy system.

2. Replicates Tough Running Conditions

Grantham is known to run up mountains for hours in hot conditions, only to have to hitch-hike back home.1 This allows his body to adapt to conditions he will inevitably face in competition.

Mentally, he is further challenging himself to cope with the multitude of ups and downs when running for many hours at a time. Although he may have a relaxed character he continually tests his survival skills by relying on factors outside of his control (namely motorists) to return him to the safety of home.

3. Stays Himself

At 35 years old, Grantham has never been more ambitious, looking to win some of the longest races in the world. Grantham trains his way though, admitting he travels to different parts of the world, such as Thailand and mainland Europe, to both train in picturesque and awe-inspiring landscapes as well as experience new cultures.2

Grantham believes that these unique races can also help runners keep determined throughout the winter months when enthusiasm can easily wane.3

Surprisingly, Grantham has only been focusing on running for eight years, beginning in his late 20s.1 Nevertheless, his experience playing football and rugby in particular, where running was emphasised2 has put him in good stead.

His marathon personal best of 2:21:43 reveals that he is certainly no ordinary athlete. Add to this his vegan diet, eco-friendly lifestyle and interest in strength and conditioning at the gym, and no wonder he is popular in an already extraordinary sport.4


1 The Athletics Weekly article is entitled Aiming High. Published on 23rd August 2018.
2 This Steemit article is entitled Interview with Playboy and Elite Runner Lee Grantham. Published on 22 January 2018.
3 The MyProtein article is entitled Racing Overseas: How to make the most of it. Published in 2016.
4 The Athletics Weekly article is entitled Trail-blazing Endurance Athlete’s Winning Social Media Strategy. Published on 23rd August 2018.

5 Secrets to Young Success of Jakob Ingebrigtsen

Jakob Ingebrigtsen has caused a frenzy amongst the athletics world with his incredible double gold (1500m and 5000m) at the European Athletics Championships earlier in August. At only 17 years of age, he has already accomplished more than some of the experienced athletes he competed against in these races.

So, what are the secrets to his success?

1. A Healthy Family Rivalry

Jakob has two world-class runners as older brothers to look up to. Although he admits that pressure to live up to their European and World Championship medal performances is tough1 the motivation is even greater.

He has training partners, who not only harbour the same ambitions but want him to succeed as much as they want to themselves. More importantly, Jakob has an advantage over his brothers – he has witnessed their success and can learn from proven training techniques.

2. Intense Mileage

According to reports2, Jakob manages up to 85 miles per week, running twice a day. This amount of running would seem rare in a young teenager, although is obviously necessary for pursuing the most elite titles.

However, realistically, Jakob has spent his youth gradually improving his mileage. As his body has developed so has the stress from running. This has meant that he has refined his endurance and speed to an elite fitness level, whilst staying injury-free for crucial races.

3. Threshold Training

Thus far in his career Jakob has focused on developing a strong cardiovascular fitness base. According to reports, Jakob has achieved this through threshold running, a form of training that stresses the body just enough to cause incremental adaptations. He should therefore be more than adept at running at a ‘comfortably hard’ intensity, ideal for boosting his confidence and coping with elite track races, many of which require astute tactics and gradual accelerations.

4. Hungry Learner

Jakob is a keen student of the sport too, reading all there is on running1. Although an academic student himself, this shows how passionate (and serious) he takes the discipline. He wants to improve and therefore must be willing (and able) to understand the training approaches, motivational techniques and former (and current) athletes’ journeys to success.

This is an important component of a champion, one who experiments to ensure he gets the best out of himself. Failures are inevitable, but his coach has helped analyse what has and hasn’t worked in order to get the best out of his young son.

5. Greatest Ambition

Jakob is motivated to become the best in the world. As soon as he had won the 1500m he was preparing for the 5000m race,3 showing that he is not willing to rest on his laurels.

He knows that there is still uncharted territory for the Ingebrigtsen family, namely an Olympic medal and a World title. What more incentive is there than to not only match his brothers’ achievements but to supersede them? This mindset will only strengthen as he enjoys more and more success, and grows into a more mature athlete.

Mentored by his coach and father4, Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s rise to senior success is remarkable. As Tim Hutchings echoes5, Jakob could be considered “outrageously gifted” and has broken “long-established rules”. However, the secrets to his achievements are not as unique as one would perhaps imagine. Instead it is the structured running routine, tested and proven, along with family support and drive to win that has projected him to the top of Europe’s middle-distance runners.

What is most incredible about his recent athletic performances is how dedicated a 17-year old can be, since the age of ten,1 to pursue a demanding sport. Even at such a young age, Jakob is willing to push himself to the brink in order to overcome his challengers.

His titles prove that to be the best one must be willing to train, research and race as smart and as hard as possible. Jakob already appears to have plenty of experience.


References

1 The IAAF article is entitled Teen Prodigy Ingebrigtsen’s Tale Comes of Age in Berlin. Published on 12 August 2018.
2 The IAAF article is entitled After Smashing through the four-minute barrier, Ingebrigtsen Serves Notice. Published on 30 May 2017.
3 The Athletics Weekly article is entitled Jakob’s Stunning Double. Published on 16 August 2018.
4 The News in English article is entitled Father Scolds the Ingebrigtsens. Published on 8 August 2018.
5 The Athletics Weekly article is entitled A Breath of Fresh Air. Published on 23 August 2018.



Weir Wins at Home Again

David Weir, the six-time Olympic gold medalist, executed a superb race to win his eighth London Marathon two Sundays ago.

Ever since I’ve watched the London Marathon on television, I have rooted for Weir in the T54 men’s wheelchair race.

His record at London alone is phenomenal. He has raced nineteen times in a row. Apart from the eight wins, he has placed in the top three nine times. His two other performances were fourth and fifth. He also won the London Mini Wheelchair Marathon seven times before he entered the full distance race1.

His consistency at the event is unquestionably amazing, especially when you consider that Weir has had to face conditions ranging from heat waves to torrential downpours. His competition has included many different names from North America and Europe. It is often said that, like the able-bodied races, any number of competitors could win each year. But unlike the main events, many of the races come down to a sprint finish. He has to be sharp to any surges, and must push on when the time is right, when others cannot respond.

As Jessica Whittington eludes in this week’s Athletics Weekly2, his home city brings the best out of him. Although I myself have experienced inspired performances in my hometown, albeit on an amateur level, I believe his London Marathon record could easily put pressure on him.

He has overcome expectations by being an extremely strong athlete, mentally and physically. Granted, his arm muscles are more visible. But his long battle against depression reveals how persistent he has needed to be3.

The 38-year-old has not had the smoothest journey to success, but the legendary retired wheelchair racer Tanni Grey-Thompson suggested post-race that he could certainly win ten London Marathon titles. The point appears obvious. If Weir truly wants to win on the biggest stage of all again, he will. That is the greatest compliment to any athlete, and I agree with Tanni’s assessment.

I hope for the sake of the sport and for the country, his hunger triumphs over his depression. Like Mo, he is a national treasure, a living example of what a hard-working attitude and down-to-earth personality can accomplish.


1 According to race reports from the London Marathon.
2 Published on 26th April 2018. The article is entitled Great Eight For Weir.
3 Weir’s honesty about his struggles is outlined in The Telegraph article entitled David Weir reveals his battle with depression: ‘I wrote a letter to my kids saying I was going away and I was sorry’ .

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''

Lessons from an Elite Tennis Coach

The Coach (2017) by Patrick Mouratoglou


From Sickly Child to Grand Slam Winning Coach

He was an ill child who was bullied. He started playing tennis at the age of sixHe became an unruly teenager, ruining his formal education.

He had therapy to correct his behaviour and worked for his father, who mentored himHe discovered the discipline and motivation necessary to develop his tennis academy in the mid-1990s.

He began coaching famous and successful tennis players such as Marcos Baghdatis and Grigor Dimitrov, and since 2012 has coached one of the greatest female tennis players of all-time, Serena Williams. Williams has won a tremendous amount of tennis titles, including ten grand slams and an Olympic gold medal, since being coached by Mouratoglou.

Top Coaching Advice

With the enthusiasm of wanting to be the best tennis coach in the world, Mouratoglou sought the necessary advice from the top tennis coach of the 1990s, Australia’s Bob Brett. 

He eventually became an independent coach after learning that to become the best tennis player, one must acknowledge their potential, be open-minded and trust the coach’s methods.

In return, Mouratoglou became obsessed with analysing opponents’ games by viewing countless matches and compiling extensive statistics. The use of notebooks was fundamental to his growth.

He is honest in why relationships with former players broke down, such as experiencing too greater emotional involvement, not sharing the same long-term ambitions, and clashing in personalities.

When he found Serena to have the same desire to dominate the sport of tennis, he used the following coaching principles to achieve outstanding success:

  • Listen intently and think carefully before speaking.
  • Research tactics and experiment endlessly.
  • Focus on psychological conditioning (such as self-esteem and self-image), eliminating unnecessary stress in the athlete.

He is today the founder and president of one of the world’s largest tennis training facilities Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, and a well-respected sports commentator and author.

He has found his greatest achievement through pairing with Serena Williams, arguably the most driven and decorated female athlete in the world.

My Inspiration to Run a Fast Mile

There are three people that inspire me to run my fastest mile.

First is Hicham El Guerrouj, the world record holder for one mile since July 1999. He clocked 3:43.13. More than his staggering performance, that has lasted for over eighteen years, is the man’s contribution to society and humble personality.

In my opinion he remains the gold standard for the mile and displays the positive attitude that all people (not just runners) should adopt.

Quentin Cassidy, the fictional protagonist in John L. Parker, Jr’s 1978 book Once a Runner, is another influence. Listening to the audiobook reminded me of my high school track career, where pain was an inevitable consequence of pushing one’s limits.

Roger Bannister is also an iconic figure in running history, as the first man to break the four-minute mile barrier. He achieved this through specific, sustained training. Surprisingly, his feat inspired others to further improve the record, proving that limits are as much psychological as physiological.

I too want to find out how quick I can run a mile (although not necessarily on the track). I am fascinated by this short distance, the primary unit that all my running is defined by. I am 27 years old, feel that I am in the peak range for my running fitness and believe this is the time to find out who I am as a miler.

Finally, my inspiration is the lifetime goal I have set (as a coach to myself) of running a mile in less than 4:30. Although extremely ambitious, I believe that I can get close, with future seasons of training, to my absolute physical and mental limit.

As with all goals it is important to break them into manageable chunks, and thus my current training will focus on milestones necessary to run a mile in less than 5 minutes.

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.

How to Gain an Ultra Mindset

The Ultra Mindset (2015) by Travis Macy


Macy is an experienced and successful adventure racer and ultrarunner from the United States of America. He retells the story of his life, training in the mountains, finding love and building upon his father’s athletic achievements.

The audiobook reveals numerous skills and personality traits that can enhance endurance performance. Through his experiences at major races such as the Leadman race series, the Adventure Racing World Championships and the Fastest Known Time (FKT) run across Zion National Park, Macy explores eight features of a superior mindset.

  1. Use every challenge as a means to strengthen your mind.

  2. Find inspirational people that you wish to imitate.

  3. Discover your internal and external motivators and learn when to use them.

  4. Improve your self-belief but never overestimate your obstacles.

  5. Always prepare and remain conscious of your thoughts during races.

  6. Wake up early to be more efficient with your time.

  7. Construct stories about yourself that are positive and affirmative.

  8. Never quit unless in a life-threatening situation.

Other tips Macy offers include using internal music as a method to find a running rhythm, and repeating internal mantras such as  “it’s all good mental training” and “never give up”. This advice is summarised by not letting fear stop you aiming high. The audiobook also has countless practical exercises to help runners reflect on and learn from their running in a meaningful way.

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.

An Ultra Transformation

Finding Ultra (2012) by Rich Roll


Serious Swimmer

Roll was born in the 1960s and by age six he was swimming, inspired by his grandfather who was a top swimmer, an Olympic hopeful and local legend. He was mentored by excellent older swimmers and his love for the water grew as he began winning local summer school meets before he was ten.

He was bullied throughout his school years so worked hard on his studies rather than his social life. It taught him to accept and thrive despite pain, as he was accustomed to the disconnect with his peers.

His tenacity to develop and realise his swimming potential resulted in him training in the pool as early as 5am and accumulating over eighteen hours of swimming a week. At age sixteen he was travelling all over the United States competing in the 200m butterfly, recognised as eighth in the country for his age group, often finishing in second place. He also single-handedly inspired his school to found a swimming team.

He attended Stanford University due to its superb swimming programme and was made freshman co-captain.

Audacious Alcoholic

Roll’s performance levels would soon fall once he was hooked on drinking alcohol, which was partly a mechanism to overcome his social anxiety. He dropped out of the team and would later become a legal assistant in New York. His raucous social drinking lead him to dodging DUIs, a failed marriage and eventually being arrested in Los Angeles.

Roll continued to relapse until he was forced into rehab after realising he had a problem and would lose his job if he did not change his habits. Over the next one hundred days Roll changed his perception of himself, and rid himself of resentment and fear in order to draw on spirituality and faithfulness to recover.

Lean Vegan Triathlete

Despite staying sober for many years, fathering a family and setting up a successful entertainment law firm, Roll was overweight and addicted to unhealthy foods. As he turned forty he knew he needed to change if he wanted to live longer. So he transformed his diet with support from his yoga and juice enthusiast wife.

Roll quickly adjusted to a vegan diet, similar to Scott Jurek, becoming ripped and losing over forty-five pounds. Inspired by the popular movement of Ironman Triathlons, he entered a long-course hilly half distance in 2007 but did not finish, suffering cramp and succumbing to high muscle lactate. In the same year he had to walk the last eight miles of the Long Beach Marathon.

So in May 2008, Roll experimented more with his food choices, motivated by fuel optimisation rather than for political or ethical reasons, and worked with top coach Chris Hauth.

After lactate tests, months of zone 2 training, periodisations and a whole-foods plant-based diet Roll steadily enhanced his aerobic endurance capacity.

Inspired by David Goggins, he completed the UltraMan World Championships in 2008 (eleventh overall) and 2009 (sixth overall). Not satisfied, Roll embraced an even more extreme test of fitness in 2010 – the EPIC 5 adventure. Alongside Jason Lester, a disabled athlete and friend, he embarked on a series of back-to-back Ironman Triathlons on the islands of Hawaii.

Despite the enormity of the challenge, adverse weather conditions, frequent mechanical faults with bicycles, saddle rashes and the loss of essential gear, they both navigated five separate islands over seven days, accumulating 12 miles of swim, 560 miles of cycling and 131 miles of running (703 miles in total).

Transformation

Roll’s journey from high school swimmer to chronic alcoholic, and overweight lawyer to elite endurance triathlete is remarkable. Along with an unwavering dedication to change his life, Roll took advantage of the advice and presence of national swimming champions, Olympic Trial qualifiers, and even Olympic medalists. He came into contact with some of the best swimmers in the world, including his idols such as Pablo Morales and John Moffet.

His persistence to better himself led him to realise that a healthy and fit lifestyle is within everyone’s grasp. He distilled his vegan diet into easily digestible and compelling advice for his readers. Foods he uses throughout his incredible feats include many slow-releasing carbohydrates:

  • Avocado and veganaise sandwiches
  • Coconut water
  • Kale and spinach
  • Mustard greens and spirulina
  • Rice balls and yams

His openness to explore himself and follow proven principles resulted in him running many miles at a lower intensity to improve his ratio of exertion to relative speed. He is a true inspiration because his positive attitude and quest for finding other people’s motivation (through his own popular podcast) is second-to-none.

Tackling Anorexia with Ultrarunning

The Extra Mile (2006) by Pam Reed with Mitch Sisskind


Battling Anorexia

Brought up in the Midwest of the United States, Pam Reed was a competitive and energetic tomboy, who developed in a culture of self-reliance and physical resilience.

In her adolescence Reed was inspired to become a gymnast, and later would commit to 1,000 sit-ups a day and running to stay fit for playing tennis. But she would train with a reduced caloric intake, wanting to maintain a slight build. She admitted herself to hospital several times, and yet never relied on drugs to improve her relationship with food and her body.

The catalyst for change came when she was told she would not reach her ultrarunning potential if she failed to eat enough to fuel and recover adequately.

Ultramarathon Success

Influenced by her husband’s love of triathlons, she first trained and competed with him at Ironman Canada, where she finished as the ninth woman.

She soon became addicted to pushing her physical and mental limits, running over 100 marathons including Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and London. She has also conquered more than 100 ultramarathons, including the Elkhorn 100k, Wasatch 100 (mile), Leadville 100 (mile) as well as 24 and 48 hour championships, where she has set numerous American records.

But it is her back-to-back wins at the brutal Badwater 135 mile race in 2002 and 2003 that she explores most in her book and which proved her class as a runner. Her love and natural adaptation to running in the heat gave her the necessary confidence to excel. She also ran 300 miles non-stop (12x 25 mile loops) in 2005, in under 80 hours. Although she ran too fast too soon, it was a highlight of her career because of the deep connection she made with her family and friends.

Her success has come from consistent performances, where external pressure failed to negatively affect her, and where nutritional liquids, energy drinks and soda water always provided a boost. Her mentor and ‘personal physician’ Chuck Giles played an immeasurable part in Reed’s pacing, crewing and fuelling during some of her hardest races. Despite her huge achievements Reed is humble and believes she has over-trained for many years (racing on average 24 times per year), suggesting she could have improved her endurance records.

Her influences include other ultrarunning champions such as Ann Trason, Scott Jurek, Marshal Ulrich and Dean Karnazes. She has also raced with Charlie Engle.

Running Tips for Balancing Life

As a mother of many children, wife, and race director of the Tuscan Marathon, Reed has to juggle many responsibilities.

Reed has defied pre-conceptions throughout her career, including running two marathons in three days, running only days after giving birth (and running a 100 mile race only 10 weeks afterwards), and never becoming seriously injured.

Reed used triathlons as her base fitness for her ultramarathons, and has trained with a jogging stroller, her dog and other ambitious women. Although she feels guilty for not always prioritising her family, she recognises that athletic excellence requires many hours of focused effort.

She further offers essential advice for any ultrarunner.

  • Crews need to laugh, talk a lot and always remain positive. Crews have the power to lose a race for a runner, and so they must be willing to do anything without showing fatigue.
  • Practice breaking long races into manageable distances. For example, a 100 miler can be viewed as one mile repeated 100 times.
  • Never think of how many miles left, look rarely at the sports watch, and think only of the short distance in front.
  • Always have multiple race goals. For example, the first goal is to finish, then to run a new personal best (either over sections or the full distance), and finally to win the race.

Reed is a legend of the sport, not only because of her impressively long list of race results but also her openness about the challenge (and expense) of her lifelong pursuit, and the respect she shows herself by never making excuses.

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.

Discover the World through Running

Run the World (2016) by Becky Wade


Year-long Adventure

In 2012, Becky Wade, a top university track runner from Texas, wins a fellowship to travel across the world. She uses the experience to learn different running practices to incorporate in her own training. She uses public transport to get around, and does not race seriously.

She aims to discover the most effective running plan, balancing the need for freedom and flexible with a demanding volume.


England

Inspired as a spectator at the women’s 2012 Olympic marathon, Wade learns that elite runners do not train and race hard all of the time, but are strategic in their surges.

She also meets Jamaican sprinters, including Usain Bolt, and discovers the fierce and long-standing cross-country rivalry between the Cambridge and Oxford Universities. A positive team spirit is essential to build the necessary relationships to run for others as well as oneself.

Switzerland

Wade explores the beautiful natural landscape of luscious forests and mountain trails in a running-friendly nation. She adjusts to become light and nimble on her feet as she copes with not always knowing her pace and distance.

She discovers that the country has no professional running groups, and yet host unique track events, where athletes run back-to-back events in which they only discover the distances during the last lap.

Ethiopia

Wade learns that this East African country, like Kenya, harbours a culture of qualities perfect for long-distance running, including discipline, resilience and ambition.

During her training she is surprised that runners sometimes cut their runs short, opting to walk for miles back home if they do not feel fully fit. They exercise a heightened awareness of their bodies, encompassed by Haile Gebrselassie, who Wade finds is a rather entertaining dancer.


Other countries Wade discovers include Japan, where she finds the pavements and language difficult to overcome, Australia and New Zealand, where she wins a minor 5k race, whilst training with an athletic club that celebrates varied training and hard efforts, and Sweden and Finland, where she runs with her brother and discovers orienteering.

Recipe for Success

Wade’s journey is also defined by each of her hosts’ choice of diets and cooking rituals. She shares a diverse range of recipes including ugali, kolo, anzac biscuits and ozoni soup.

Through food as much as running, Wade develops close relationships with knowledgeable and humble runners. Her unstructured training of over 550 miles during the year ultimately leads Wade back to the United States, where in December 2013 she runs her first marathon, the California International Marathon. She beats the women’s field in an impressive time of 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Quote from Becky Wade audiobook

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.

Run to Feel Alive

Born to Run (2009) by Christopher McDougall


Injury Dilemma

In January 2001, a journalist in his 40s asks doctors why running causes him and the majority of runners so many injuries. He learns running is a high-impact sport that affects a very sensitive area of the body – the feet.

He notes that running is a primal activity used for pleasure and to escape danger. Running animals are injury-free and yet humans appear to suffer regularly. 

Running Shoes

McDougall tackles the subject by summarising extensive studies on the effects of shoes.

  • The more cushioning in shoes, the less stable they become, as feet always seek to contact a solid platform. Therefore, thinner soles provide greater stability.
  • We are designed through evolution to run barefoot, as pronation is a natural feature of our feet.

Despite the constant technological advances and sophisticated marketing campaigns, modern running shoes actually increase runners’ chance of injury. The multi-billion dollar industry is also indicative of Western society, which prioritises short-term results and monetary incentives over long-term consistency and health.

Daring Adventure

McDougall sets off to discover the purity of running and finds the Copper Canyons of Mexico, where he meets the Native American tribe of the Tarahumara. The running philosophy adopted by this peaceful, giving and athletic people is humbling.

  • They run free like children subconsciously do.
  • They love running in any condition and at any time, embracing the uncertainty of the next obstacle.
  • They eat a simple diet, predominantly local vegetables such as greens and squashes, and grains such as corn.

McDougall learns to run easy, light and smooth in order to run faster, and to complete an ultramarathon along challenging trails. The race takes months of extensive planning and treacherous navigation, culminating in a secret and awe-inspiring event with some of the best endurance runners in the world, including Scott Jurek, Jenn Shelton and Barefoot Ted.

Running Man Theory

Ultimately, McDougall subscribes to a scientific theory that humans are born to run. Despite losing power, stability and aerodynamics by travelling on two legs, we retain many running attributes:

  • an achilles tendon
  • arched feet
  • short and straight toes
  • large glutes
  • the nuchal ligament*

We can also take more steps per breath than any other animal. Combined with sweating on the move, we can cool without stopping and thus fare better in all climates.

These features enable us to be the best persistence hunters. The skills of animal tracking, strategy and visualisation mean we could use our aerobic capacity to exhaust antelope to death.

Although we thankfully do not use running for this purpose we still harbour the desire to travel at pace using only our will and physical strength.


* This stabilises our heads when running.

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

Japanese Running Culture

The Way of the Runner (2015) by Adharanand Finn


Question

Finn travels 9,000 miles overland to Japan with his wife and small children. The reason for his six-month stay in Asia is to discover why Japan has a greater number of half and full marathon runners than the United States and United Kingdom, trailing only behind Ethiopia and Kenya.

Ekidens

Finn meets numerous coaches and athletes and learns about Ekidens, long-distance relay races (upwards of 20 runners each running a half marathon) that are central to motivating and rewarding Japanese runners.

Originally used as training for marathons, Ekidens have been so successful that Japanese runners are viewed as national heroes and the country now has some of the finest infrastructure to support progress in high school and college students, company employees, as well as elite athletes. The Hakone Ekiden and the All-Japan Ekiden Championships are races that now draw millions of people, making them some of the most watched television spectacles, and are seen as more important than the Olympic Games.

The events grew in popularity after World War II as a means to harbour national unity, team spirit and commitment to endurance-based fitness.

Training Practices

Despite the huge scientific and technological advances that have originated from Japan, much of the country’s running philosophy remains traditional.

Over-training – Running and racing too often, for too long, from an early age means recovery is often neglected

Immense pressure – The corporate sponsors and expectations from fans produce coaches that are short-term focused, ignoring what is optimal for runners’ careers. 

Risk aversion – Running too cautious at steady, even paces rather than with surges, mean they often lose against braver competitors (which often win races when bursts are executed at the right time). 

Sleep deprivation – Tiredness is not culturally acceptable and therefore health can be compromised.

The Japanese society of conformity, dogged work ethic and personal responsibility for team efforts mean athletes are susceptible to inflexible training plans, strict (sometimes abusive) coaching and inferiority complexities. Unsurprisingly, mental exhaustion and physical injuries are widespread.

Marathon Monks

Finn also speaks to a ‘marathon monk’, whose focus is to run and walk 1,000 marathons in 1,000 (non-consecutive) days, between sacred places. This offers spiritual enlightenment by exhausting the mind and ego whilst constantly moving and reflecting on life. Citizen Runner, a Japanese amateur marathoner who works full-time and is self-coached, is another famous example of someone running alone, which can result in a deeper connection with oneself.

Personal Impact

Despite turning 40 and witnessing prevalent training errors, Finn discovers that returning home his running has improved. He wins several local races, including the South Downs Marathon Relay as part of Team ‘The Ekiden Men’. One of the reasons is that Finn gains a stronger and leaner body by squatting regularly, an often neglected core exercise in modern life.

Ultimately, he learns that to run well for long distances and over a prolonged period runners should love the sport and feel part of a collective ambition.

Running Tips from Lazy Girl

The Lazy Girl Running Podcast is unique because Laura (and her friends) provide humorous commentary during their races, including the London Marathon, and reflect on interesting sightings and interactions. Despite facing challenges along the way, they are always encouraging and enjoy each other’s company.

Plus, there are fascinating interviews with both new and experienced ultrarunners, including Anna McNuff (who ran across New Zealand), Elise Downing (who ran the coast of Britain) and Nicky Spinks (who holds records as a fell runner and is a cancer survivor).

Listening to all 23 short episodes I discovered swim running, where you interchange between running and swimming outdoors, and the UnderRound event, an unofficial marathon across London with tube station platforms as checkpoints.

The down-to-earth hosts demonstrate the fun and social aspect of running, which is just as inspirational as accomplishing fast times. Laura’s guests encourage yoga, positive body image, and not feeling guilty about fitting in training around work and family commitments. They are also open about issues such as incontinence, pregnancy and drinking alcohol, all whilst running.

My favourite podcast episodes are number 13 and 17, where Laura speaks to life coach Liz Goodchild about how to best tackle life and running problems. She advises undertaking a ‘no pressure’ period to test habits when wanting to make significant changes, and that after long-term injury past performances are not the measure for comparison in the future. She also outlines that applying retrospective fulfilment to past training can stimulate a positive mindset.

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.

The Running Career of Charlie Engle

Early Life

Engle was born in North Carolina in the early 1960s. His mother was a free-spirited, renowned playwright and activist. His father was a strict and non-supportive presence despite Engle’s early academic success. His parents divorced and he frequently moved homes across the United States.

He played basketball and competed in track and field events at the Junior OlympicsHis runs were his adventures, such as the time he chased and jumped into a moving box train only to have to run back home.


Cocaine and Alcohol Addiction

In his teens and twenties Engle’s life spiralled out of control, as he used crack cocaine, drank excessively and piled on debt. He failed to hide his addictions; he entered rehab but regularly relapsed. Even his now former-wife and first son were not incentive enough to stay sober.

Even as he ran the Big Sur Marathon he was intoxicated, recovering on route as he vomited and drank more. Incredibly he still completed the distance in under 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Instead it was the accumulation of numerous near-death experiences, including dodging bullets from drug dealers, that changed his perspective. At age 30 Engle’s sobriety was cemented when an AA sponsor reminded him that it was not all his fault and that self-destruction was not a logical feeling.


Extreme Running as his Saviour

His addictive character was not squashed. He continued to run marathons, including the Boston Marathon multiple times, chasing a sub 3 hour finish. He ran through sickness and injury until he completed his goal.

His ultrarunning career began when he accidentally entered a 52km race whilst in Australia. Despite persistent doubts and a hilly course, he won the men’s division.

Influenced by numerous documentaries he entered adventure races in Ecuador, Borneo and New Zealand. The experiences were always memorable as he often found himself lost, disqualified or in the top finishers.

It taught him he was only as strong as his team mates.

He then enjoyed great success in other races including the Badwater 135, Jungle Marathon and Gobi March races. He learnt to control his effort and not the outcome, as he drifted apart from his wife and quit his job to pursue a remarkable run across the Sahara Desert.

The film Running the Sahara records Engle’s runs of 50 miles a day for over 100 days with Ray Zahab and Kevin Lin. They frequently needed IV fluids but overcame technical delays, multiple injuries, extreme exhaustion and constant loss of weight. The distraction methods they used included listening to countless audiobooks and music, and repeating jokes and stories to one another.

Later he attempted to run across the United States with another ultrarunner, Marshall Ulrich. Engle needed to finish the distance on a bike due to injury but still inspired children across his native land as he visited schools.


Imprisonment and Final Redemption

Engle faced many setbacks, including dealing with his mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and encountering financial difficulties. The latter would culminate in Engle being convicted of bank fraud in October 2010. Despite a lack of evidence he would spend 21 months in a federal prison in West Virginia.

Before his incarceration he ran with an ankle bracelet, endured knee surgery and almost relapsed.

He dealt with his imprisonment by journaling, reading, coaching others to get fitter and lose weight, and running frequently, sometimes on the spot in his prison cell. Time in prison fostered a new spirit in Engle, as he ran his own Badwater 135, 24 hours over 2 days to replicate the harsh conditions. This feat was equivalent of 540 laps of a dirt track and unsurprisingly gave him the nickname of ‘Running Man’.

Before his release he repaired his relationship with his father and rid himself of all anger and resentment towards law enforcement. He finally found love in a woman who would crew him on his future running pursuits.

Engle’s story is fascinating and redemptive, proving that running can replace more harmful addictions and create a lasting pursuit of human limits.

Audiobook Review: Out There by David Clark

Out There is the deeply honest account of Clark’s recovery from chronic alcoholic to accomplished ultrarunner.

Clark grew up in a close-knit patriotic and religious family from New York State, who moved homes often.

In adolescence and early adulthood Clark experimented with drink and drugs at parties, and binged on fast food. The onset of paranoia, hallucinations and sleep deprivation only forced him to kick his drug habit.

Ignoring the warning signs

When he moved to Denver he became a husband, father to multiple children, an award-winning sales executive boasting a high salary, and later a successful business owner.

Despite his personal and professional achievements his drinking became more excessive and destructive. He drove and worked whilst under the influence, and was later sued, forcing him to file for personal bankruptcy.

He adeptly concealed his problem from his family despite it making him sick, depressed, reclusive and desperate. Even the sudden death of his best friend’s brother did not stop him.

Running towards redemption

Once unemployed, broke and near death Clark took responsibility for his actions and changed.

He swapped his addiction to running, fuelled by his lifelong dream of finishing a marathon. He naturally became mindful of his self-talk and the foods he was consuming.

His training consisted of running on a treadmill in his gym every day, starting from short intervals to 20 minutes non-stop. He also became an avid reader of running books.

He soon transformed his life, becoming a travelling spa and hot tub salesman as a sober competitor of distances ranging from 5 km to the marathon. He continued to test his new found strength by completing more challenging events such as the Boulder Ironman triathlon and the Badwater 135 ultramarathon.

Overcoming further setbacks

Then the inevitable injury occurred. A severely herniated disc impinging on his sciatic nerve forced him to rest, and commit to regular core exercises and steroid injections. He even discarded the pain medication due to his fear of drug dependence.

But with patience and perseverance he returned healthy and finished the Leadville 100 ultramarathon twice, won the 12 hours of Boulder race, ran 24 hours on a treadmill, and 50 km for ten consecutive days across the state of Colorado.

Despite his subsequent divorce he ultimately regained his self-worth by dropping over 70 kg of body weight and inspiring others as a running coach and mentor through The Superman Project he created.

Clark used running as his new life-saving drug, an obsession with strengthening his fitness and spirit.

 

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.

Why I Listen to the Strength Running Podcast

The Strength Running Podcast provides subscribers with practical guidance through inspiring interviews with runners from a variety of backgrounds. The podcast is hosted by Jason Fitzgerald, an American running coach and bestselling author of multiple running books. As a competitive runner and head coach at Strength Running, his advice is comprehensive and based on extensive experience.

The podcast analyses the careers and mindsets of many successful and elite runners, including Nick Symmonds, Shalane Flanagan and Dathan Ritzenhein, as well as pro ultrarunners such as Travis Macy and Magdalena Boulet.

Episodes also feature recreational runners and health care professionals who examine different perspectives on running. Jason shares his own marathon experiences throughout to illustrate important racing principles.

Every episode offers brilliant value to all runners but two stand out to me.

Episode number 10 reveals Dr Justin Ross’ views as an American sports psychologist. He outlines mental techniques to get the best out of your running and discusses an intriguing concept called the Social Facilitation Theory. It proposes that performance is enhanced when competing or training with others, as opposed to going it alone all the time. He emphasises the importance of awareness of every aspect of yourself, and the habits and messages we create in our minds must be positive, even though they take time to establish.

Episode number 31 explores Tina Muir, a former professional runner from Great Britain, who gives her honest and brave account of taking a break from running at the top level. She explains the problems running may cause, such as bone weaknesses and iron deficiencies, and promotes the importance of stopping when running becomes more of chore than a hobby. Her website is a great platform to remind yourself to share the lows, as well as the highs, of running.

I subscribe to The Strength Running Podcast because Jason asks insightful questions to a mix of passionate runners and renowned experts in fields such as nutrition, psychology and sports science. Jason also comes across as a humble man, who prioritises the foundations of exercise, including injury prevention and strength training.

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.

Audiobook Review: ‘Eat and Run’ by Scott Jurek


Background

Jurek’s autobiography offers insight into the journey and successes of an ultramarathon legend.

By his own admission he was an average kid growing up in northern Minnesota. He took on many familial responsibilities once his mother was diagnosed with multiple Sclerosis and needed physical therapy. Despite Jurek’s high blood pressure, and his father’s tough parenting, he found peace in his local woods.

As his family could not afford much equipment he became fitter and more competitive through endurance running and cross-country skiing alongside Dusty Olson, a man with whom Jurek would have a tumultuous relationship.

Jurek studied and trained hard whilst reading books on philosophy, yoga, Pilates and veganism, as well as working in running shops and as a physical therapist.


Accomplishments

Jurek chronicles winning and breaking records in some of the toughest foot races in the world, including the Hardrock 100, the Spartathlon (in Greece) and the Western States 100, a race he wins seven consecutive times from the age of twenty-five. They are dramatic and fascinating, even when he paces a friend at the Western States 100.

Jurek accomplishes all this in spite of coping with divorce, his mother passing away, a friend committing suicide and injuries that force him to drop out midway through races.

Yet his obsession with healthy living and asking (and answering) existential questions keeps him grounded and hungry to reach his potential.

Jurek shares his thoughts on succeeding as a runner and vegan athlete, and many notable competitors, including Ferg Hawke, Tough Tommy, Mike Sweeney, Karl Metzler, Kyle and Erik Skaggs and Yanus Korus. His exploration into the Copper Canyons of Mexico to run alongside the famous Tarahumara Indians and Cabello Blanco, is an illuminating account of how running can be an efficient means of survival.


Advice

Scott offers unique motivation throughout the book, including inspirational quotes, nutritional recipes and racing advice.

  • Winning races should make you confident yet humble.
  • A strong runner knows the difference between significant pain (which is a signal to stop and rest) and insignificant pain (which is a signal to push through).
  • Running is a metaphor for life – the ultimate test of mental willpower, where non-essential thoughts are detrimental to progress.

Jurek is a true champion and inspiration of the ultrarunning community. In this enthralling audiobook he offers a rare tale of how sport can truly transform a competitor into a better person. He is one of my main running influences, a man who knows that winning can enlighten oneself and others.

Book Review: ‘Keep on Running’ by Phil Hewitt

keep-on-running-e1508005922880.jpeg

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.

Audiobook Review: ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’

Vassos Alexander details his running races across Europe including the Great North Run, the ultramarathon 100km to the Stones and numerous marathons, many of which he experiences with his Greek cousin.

Alexander is a British radio presenter and sports journalist, who began running when he realised he was overweight. He stopped smoking but continued to drink coffee and alcohol.

Every chapter of the book starts with commentary of each mile of the marathon section of the Outlaw Ironman Triathlon he completed. Next, he outlines his thoughts on past races, injuries and training. The final part covers stories from inspirational runners, some of whom are famous. These include Paula Radcliffe, Joss Naylor, Steve Cram, Jonathan Bailey, Lord Smithe, Nicky Campbell, Angela Copson, Sally Gunnell, Jenson Button, Chrissie Wellington, Liz and Martin Yelling, Tom Williams, Neil McAndrew, Helen Skelton-Myler, Rory Coleman, Allison Curbishley, Jo Pavey, Colin Jackson, Graham Albans and Scott Forbes.

All these runners give a brief insight as to how they got into running, their training routine, as well as their achievements and advice.

The audiobook is narrated by the author, which emphasises his humorous personality and confident persona.

He reveals his top five favourite runs in the UK and abroad, and provides his children’s perspective on running.

His journey as an experienced runner includes visiting physiotherapists, encouraging his children to run his local Parkrun and training alongside his dog.

Alexander’s story is relatable, interesting and reminds me that every run can feel like a victory.

Audiobook Review: ‘Running with the Kenyans’

The book chronicles an English vegetarian journalist’s journey to Kenya as he looks to better understand the country’s running talent. In conjunction with this Finn improves his own running by implementing some of the principles he observes in the East African country.

Finn details his own running story, from his Northampton-based running club, to losing interest whilst at university and returning to road-racing as an adult. Due to his sense of adventure and a Kenyan relative, he goes with his wife and two young children to the home of endurance athletes.

Throughout his stay he meets many runners, including top athletes such as Mary Keitany, Geoffrey Mutai and Haile Gebrselassie, and famous coaches such as Brother Colm. He experiences running in the dark along trails early in the day and running in local cross country races. Finn creates a running team, which he names the Iten Town Harriers, and details their training in the build up to the Lewa Marathon. Alongside this he learns intriguing theories about whether barefoot running is the most efficient means of running.

The book is packed with interesting anecdotes from various runners in Kenya, in pursuit of understanding the secrets behind the most successful nation in long-distance running. Finn offers an insight into the running culture in Kenya, as many of the people and runners he meets are connected to Olympic and world championship medalists, world record holders and/or  winners of famous big city marathons. Any serious runner does not have a job as it takes up too much of their time and energy. Although athletes rely on help from relatives they are also prone to over-training.

There appears to be many factors that make Kenyan runners special. These include:

  • often difficult childhoods running to school barefoot
  • simple diets and lifestyles
  • altitude training
  • many opportunities to rest
  • the limited alternative livelihoods
  • an abundance of role models.

But perhaps most significant is the Kenyans’ unassuming dedication and hard work that leads to confidence and an expectation to win. Running can truly change their lives.

The book is an honest and adventurous account of one man’s pursuit to answer pressing athletic questions. Finn maintains an open mind and heart throughout. He learns ultimately that one must acquire self-effacing discipline to run faster.

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.

Podcast Review: Sage Running

The Sage Running Podcast offers listeners comprehensive advice and inspiration on running any distance. The podcast is led by pro ultra mountain trail runner Sage Canaday and his partner Sandi Nypaver. They are both American running coaches who own and run Sage Running, a website packed with resources to support athletes to become stronger and more confident.

The podcast focuses on practical tips to improve endurance, speed and technique.

Sage and Sandi also share their race reports and training routines. A number of inspiring and experienced runners have been interviewed, such as trail runner ‘The Ginger Runner’, former Olympic athlete Mike Aish and mountain ultrarunner Hayden Hawks.

I particularly enjoyed episode number 7, where Sage and Sandi interview Sandi’s sister Rachel. They discuss strategies that runners can use to become mentally resilient and overcome pain, injury and bad performances. These include visualisation, non-resistance, positive attitude and mantras.

I subscribe to The Sage Running Podcast because I find Sage’s philosophy on running refreshing and humbling.

I agree with him that there should be a zero tolerance policy on performance-enhancing drugs and that even after a poor race outcome you should remain upbeat.

Audiobook Review: ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami

Times are not the only measure of running.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a memoir chronicling the famous Japanese author’s reflections on a running season. I have read a number of Murakami’s novels and find him an intriguing writer and translator. Rather than focusing on times or performances, his story relays his thoughts, observations and fears during his stays in Hawaii and Massachusetts in the USA and near Tokyo, Japan.

Running should reflect you as a person.

Murakami explains how he started running at the age of 33 and details running a marathon in Athens, an ultramarathon and a triathlon.

He defines himself as a serious runner because of the regular distance he runs, his focus on self-improvement and his decision to race at least once a year.

He reveals how he often runs with a specific mental void and runs further when dealing with personal issues. He admits he naps during the day and that running is not for everyone and should suit the person’s personality.

He finds maintaining a rhythm vital for long-term projects such as marathon training and racing. His tips for training include gradually increasing mileage per week, never taking two rest days in a row and that peak exhaustion should be a month before a race.

He remains honest in recounting poor performances and periods where he fell out of love with running.

Develop a long-term strategy for your running.

I find it interesting that he views running as a metaphor for life; the purpose is to endure and to enjoy the journey. I can relate to his difficulty in writing and structuring a book on running.

I agree with him that there is a close relationship between running and writing, and appreciate that the title is a homage to a particular writer that has influenced me, Raymond Carver. Other intriguing aspects of the book include Murakami’s musical influences and early life before he became a published and successful author.

He believes that to succeed as a novelist and runner, talent, focus and endurance must be present.


This was the first audiobook I listened to and is one of my favourites. I recommend it to anyone who wants a relatively quick insight into running and writing by a man who is highly experienced in both.

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.