Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book Review! Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons

Bryon Powell does a good job of bringing together all of the most current training principles and advice in his new book; Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons

During the holidays my younger brother Joshua traveled from Vancouver to visit the family. My brother and I have been running partners in the past, we ran our first 5k charity race together, our first half marathon together, we even ran our first marathon in VFFs together (he wore bikilas, I wore the sprints). Sadly a few years ago he moved out west and since then we've run only a couple of times in races together. My brother ran a huge PB at the Vancouver marathon (4:28-or something close to that) a couple of years ago and then started training for Boston when I decided that trail running and ultramarathons were WAY more fun than road races. So our running paths diverged. Josh eventually gave up running consistently but it seems like whenever he's back home he gets an itch to run (or maybe its some deeply buried sibling rivalry-whatever). So after a few hours of babysitting my daughter I came home to find him reading this book that I got for Christmas.

Josh told me that we was considering running the 50k with me this year...until he read a few pages from this book. I had to chuckle. He went on to say he had looked at the training plans (included in the middle of the book) and thought "Well, hey, I can do that...oh wait..the plan is in MILES not kilometers...never mind." I smiled and realized its been three years since I took the leap into trail and ultrarunning so the weekly totals don't really phase me much anymore..unless I look at a 100 miler training plan-now THOSE scare me.

The training plans in this book are what I would deem as aggressive, but they will very likely deliver the results a runner desires if they put in the work. Bryon Powell also does a very good job of outlining adaptations to the plans so that they can be tailored to suit just about any runner's schedule or lifestyle demands. I also enjoyed how he wove the advice from other well known ultrarunners into the context of the topic he was discussing at the time.

The book is truly a how-to guide. I had expected a bit more of a narrative to the book which was the only negative thing I can say about it-but really one book cannot be everything to everyone. Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons guides the runner/reader through the topics every runner attempting an ultramarathon should be familiar with; from nutrition, nausea, injuries, cross training, the debate on speed work, deciding on a race distance, running roads versus trails, preparing for a race mentally and physically, the importance of rest, etc.. all of it is organized in a very fluid way that will have me going back to this book as a reference for years to come I'm sure.

I was a bit let down that my brother-who's followed me into most of my other crazy ideas-won't be saddling up to run the 50k with me (god knows I enjoy the company!), but I understand. A 50k, or even a marathon isn't something you can just jump into with a few weeks of preparation. It takes time to build up to that distance comfortably and to mentally prepare for the ups and downs that you'll experience (plus you have to really, really want to achieve that distance). But the reward of self satisfaction in surpassing what you thought you were capable of doing is truly a feeling like no other. I got a hint of that with finishing my first marathon but after I finished my first 50k I wore a perma-smile for a week. You can tell someone about it, but unless you get out there and push beyond your own limits I don't think a person can truly appreciate the rewards that relentless forward progress can give you.

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