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.

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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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

I can relate to many of his wise observations:

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

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

Book Review: ‘Finding Gobi’ by Dion Leonard

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

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

This impressive feat is only the beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.