Our senior consultant Andrew Weltch reviews a new book with lessons for all runners and inspiration for many.
Running is big business these days – a healthy activity which can be done almost anywhere with relatively little specialist kit, it’s no wonder it’s the most popular participation sport in England and, no doubt, elsewhere too.
We’ve looked before in this blog at the success of organisations encouraging mass participation in accessible events like 5ks, 10ks and above – the UK-based parkrun and in the US, New York Road Runners.
But there’s a less accessible level of running beyond such popular events – it’s called ultra-running.
The term covers any distance longer than a marathon (that’s 42.195k or 26.2 miles). Races may be 50k, but more often 50 miles or 100 miles or more.
The distances are daunting to an old plodder like me, for whom a half marathon is demanding enough. Ultra running seemed as irrelevant to me as pearl diving or bull fighting. But a new book The Ultra Mile by Miami-based running coach and physiotherapist Tim Wills has proved a real eye-opener.
In this engaging, readable volume, Tim looks at the benefits and challenges of running in general, before moving on to the practicalities of training for ultra running, and then his personal experiences of some gruelling long-distance events.
As someone who will never aspire to run such distances, I still found this book inspiring, informative and useful. It provides insights and tips that are relevant to any runner – his notes on choosing shoes resonated with me, as my dreadful overpronating feet have caused me no end of problems; and his metaphor for each training session as a deposit in a bank account struck me as helpful and encouraging.
It also taught me some practical lessons: Sitting and running both shorten the hamstrings, apparently. So for runners, it’s important to stretch the hamstrings and strenghthen the quads and glutes to improve form and help prevent injury.
Then there’s Tim’s changing perception of distance. “Over the years, I have begun to look at distance differently. I remember thinking that some distances were just too big to even think about. I was still at a point where the marathon overwhelmed me.”
This rang true for me (on a much-reduced scale): when I started running in my 50s, I targeted 5k so I could do parkrun. Once I’d achieved that, I thought maybe one day, I might attempt a 10k. But then I won a half-marathon entry, my friend Chris encouraged me, coached me and accompanied me to achieve the 13.1 miles.
A few years later, when the half was still a once-every-two-years endeavour, I started running regularly with Krista. Before long, she was taking me 10 or 11 miles on our weekly run, and we were doing a half marathon almost monthly.
With preparation and, crucially, the right support, our perceptions of distance and our own potential can change very quickly. It’s one of the most valuable lessons in the book.
And I’m sure – despite the misery of some ultra running races in the Florida heat, which Tim recounts (the late-night episode with the red ants will haunt me for a while!) – this excellent book will encourage many (younger and fitter than me) to consider aiming beyond the marathon to go The Ultra Mile.
You can order The Ultra Mile from Amazon and elsewhere.
And check out Tim’s Go The Ultra Mile website for coaching services and running apparel.
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