If you take just one thing from this book it should be Jason Koop’s insistence that “Ultramarathons are not simply long marathons” and that you can’t expect to succeed by simply running more. There is a world of difference between a marathon’s Mile 26 and a 50K’s Mile 31, much more than is encompassed in that telling five mile differential. Koop, the director of coaching with Carmichael Training Systems in Colorado Springs, who has crafted incisive programs for elite ultrarunners as Dakota Jones and Kaci Lickteig, now shares his knowledge with ordinary folks like us.
Unlike other self-help books of this nature, there are no intimidating training tables (although there are enough graphs and charts to challenge any GPS), no complex timed refueling strategies or endless lists of possible supplies. Instead, you are in charge of your own program, which is liberating for someone like me who resents “do it my way or die” pronouncements. Still, initially this sounds rather odd, since Koop after all, earns his living as a coach. But if you consider the many hours an ultrarunner spends alone on the trail, relying solely on his abilities, this makes complete sense.
First things first, Koop recommends selecting a race and a goal that speaks to you. So often these goals take the “success by lack of failure” route. Because so many things can head south during an ultra’s lengthier time span, not sitting down at rest stops, not becoming dehydrated, not succumbing to the dreaded blister are worthy achievements. In what other sport could that be a cause for celebration!
Once you own your goals, examine the data to determine your event’s specific challenges, whether it be hills, altitude or weather conditions. Then, instead of taking an “If it’s Monday it must be hills” approach, periodize your most race-specific training closer to the event itself. Koop does outline many skills like tempo and interval training that need to be tackled, but you are in charge of the when and the where.
This insistence on owning your event goes hand-in-hand with Koop’s race day ADAPT strategy: Accept, Diagnose, Analyze, Plan, Take Action. Accept the situation you must deal with whether it be a scary thunderstorm or a missed trail marker, really sucks. Then diagnose or identify the precise problem. Analyze by creating a mental inventory of what you have on hand to deal with the issue. Sort of like Gary Paulsen’s hero in Hatchet turning his pockets inside out to discover exactly what he has available to survive the plane wreck until rescued. Then make your plan and execute it. While this may or may not lead to the perfect scenario, it will put a positive spin on things, put you once more in charge and make the remaining hours doable. Come to think of it, this is a perfect response to anything unreasonable life dishes out, and I have been using it regularly in all types of situations. It is liberating and beats down the worry and stress.
To conclude, Koop includes a coaching guide for ten of America’s best-known ultras, and while you may never run Badwater or Vermont 100, if you follow the principles Koop outlines and you will not only run your ultra, but own it as well.
Reviewed by Laura Clark