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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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: ‘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.

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.

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.