08 May 2015

book review - Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning

i'm barely a runner, never mind an ultra runner - so i need all of the help that i can get.

as i've now completed my spring marathon, the next two main events on my calendar are both trail ultra competitions - the Sulphur Springs 50k and The North Face Endurance Challenge Series GORE-TEX® 50 miler.  winter training season was a strong one for me this year (as evidenced by my new PB at the waterloo marathon a couple of weeks back) so while i feel decently conditioned for the 50k distance i know not to take any ultra for granted (as evidenced by my near self-destruction at the 2014 limberlost challenge).  after a quick peruse through my local library i picked up hal koerner's field guide to ultrarunning by - who else? - hal koerner.



this really is a field guide, which to me means several things:
  • it's easy to read and provides accessible information to the newbie and seasoned veteran alike
  • it's fairly comprehensive without being encyclopedic (i.e. too detailed)
  • it's written from the perspective of someone with first-hand experience.
i can't say that i'm really familiar with hal koerner - but then i'm not well-acquainted with the ultra-verse, so i'm not sure how much that says about his credibility.  however, if you take his stories at face value then the guy has a wealth of experience upon which to draw - and he certainly tells tales in a way that are vivid enough and echo of 'insider experience' to make me think that he well knows whereof he speaks/writes.  [if you need to find out more about his résumé - including his wins at the hardrock and western states 100s - read here]

something else that i appreciate about koerner's writing is that while he covers a lot of territory (no pun intended) in his book, he doesn't offer the simple 'cut-and-paste' descriptors on issues like hydration, terrain and footwear.  as an example, when he addresses the differences between trail-specific shoes and road running shoes he notes that while trail shoes do have tread patterns for greater grip on uneven surfaces there are some lug designs that actually suck up and hold mud and grit more than other designs.  just that tidbit alone was something new to me, and his suggestion that asking those sorts of questions (which again rings of insider knowledge) of the staff at your local running store will prove helpful as you engage the environs of your training/racing routes.

what's also interesting is that he brings to the book his perspective as a race director (of the Pine To Palm 100 miler) and retail store owner - so his perspective is not only as a prospective coach to fledgling ultrarunners like me, but also as someone who has a vested interest in making sure that all athletes compete well, safe and fair.

all that being said, the least impressive part of this book falls in the penultimate chapter on training plans.  having conveyed his wealth of insight and wisdom gleaned from endless miles of running in just about every condition imaginable i found the three training plan templates - for 50k, 50miles-100k, and 100 miles - pretty bland and generic.  he hits on the requisite core workouts (tempo runs, fartlek/intervals and hills) but i've found more helpful plans online (like those indexed on ultramarathonrunning.com) and am actually using a great training plan that i found designed for those preparing to run the comrades marathon ... which i hope to compete in before long.

i'm seriously thinking about purchasing this book after returning it to the library - it's well worth a re-read, and will provide boundless points of reference after i complete (*bold predictions*) my two ultras this year.  i'm thankful to have discovered hal koerner, and would definitely say that the generous information shared in his field guide to ultrarunning is indicative of the kind of personalities that form the trail and ultra running community - focused on helping one another enjoy the planet that we get to explore and to do it with confidence, competence and respect.
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