Adventure Racing Dog

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


Journey to the Extreme

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

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

Additional Team Member

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

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

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

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

Ultimate Lessons

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

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

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

The back cover of the book 'Arthur''

How to Run

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Contents of How to Run by Hugh Jones

Advice to Optimise Your Running

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


Fantastic Facts

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

Training Tips and Errors

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

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.

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Mitigating the Challenges of Ultramarathons

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


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

Calorie Consumption

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

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

Practice Every Aspect of Racing

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

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

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

Managing Pain

Robillard also outlines a no-nonsense attitude to pain.

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

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


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

Embracing the Fear of Ultramarathons

Running and Stuff (2015) by James Adams


Motivation

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

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

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

Experience

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

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

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

Guidance

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

  1. Run marathon races as training.

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

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

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

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

Advice and Benefits of Running Off-Road

Off-Road Running (2002) by Sarah Rowell


Benefits

Running off-road

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

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

Advice

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

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

Running Research

Rowell also relays fascinating and useful scientific evidence.

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

Off-Road Running

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

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.

Usain Bolt in his Own Words

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


Fitting into Jamaican Culture

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

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

Major Obstacles to Ultimate Focus

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

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

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

Returning Stronger from Tragedy

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

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


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

Book Review: ‘Keep on Running’ by Phil Hewitt

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: ‘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.