Friday, April 22, 2011

Relentless Forward Progress - A Book Review

Relentless Forward Progress is, “a guide to running ultramarathons.” In addition it is also what Bryon Powell has done with his own life. Eschewing a corporate lifestyle to tackle a life in the running industry, Powell has gathered countless hours of real-time experience, not only from some of the top names in ultrarunning but from the trails and roads his own legs has traversed. All this accumulated knowledge shows in this book.

Coincidentally, I had just finished reading this book when a new friend asked if I knew of a guide for a first-time ultrarunner wannabe. I thought about how Powell disperses advice in his book with very little technical jargon and even less condescension. There is also a tone to each chapter that seems to soothe you with a “Hey, don’t worry. We have all been down this road and we all have to learn how to do this.”

Powell utilizes his connection made over thousands of miles logged with experts in the field as well as his own website, to bring in a variety of specialist.  From a point-counterpoint between two of America’s ultrarunners on the necessity of speedwork to lighthearted banter from one of the up and coming young stars in the world, very few stones are left unturned.

The training section of the book also fits comfortably into the little-bear’s porridge model of just right. It is not asking the reader to start crushing 120 miles but it states how getting into an ultra is not going to be the same as running your first marathon for the local charity fundraiser. With the varying difficulty level of not only distance but terrain and weather present in most ultras, the commitment level is much higher than a road marathon. The chapter on training makes no bones about this but does its best to not scare the bejesus out of the runner either.

Not only is the training schedule for an ultra laid out in detail so are many of the main components, including what I think is the most important part of making the transition from 26.2 miles to 50 kilometers, 50 miles and then even more: nutrition. Whoever said that ultra running is not a running contest but an eating contest was right. Simple energy gels are rarely enough to get the normal runner through a, say 100 mile event. (Or a 202 one, either.)

Touching on all the essentials, Powell also has a few moments I found downright funny (e.g., describing how in cold weather an energy bar becomes "an unbreakable super material.")

When you have written one book and are in the process of writing your next, reading a book that falls into your own wheelhouse is almost a trap. You could easily pick it apart and think “Well I would have done this there and would not have added that here.” I found myself saying this not once.

 As far as the title says, this is one spectacular guide to running ultramarathons.

1 comment:

anotherwise said...

Dane, My friends I have have decided to tackle a full marathon this year. We were just commenting the other day how, "easy" training for a half seems now. To which I replied, "I guess we need to an ultra to make a full seem easy." They did not think I was funny. After reading your review I am so tempted to get this book just scare the bejesus out of them.
Thanks for the review the timing was perfect. Can't wait for your new book.