Looking for a book that will help you pick out the right trail-running shoe, explain why specificity in training is important or elaborate on the art of pooping in the woods? These tips (and many more) are included in the five ultrarunning how-to books we reviewed below. Whether you’re toeing the line at your first 50K or a veteran with more than one buckle on your belt, there’s something here for you.
Training Essentials for Ultrarunning
by Jason Koop with Jim Rutberg
What it is: A guide to preparing for ultramarathons.
Best for: Intermediate to advanced ultrarunners looking for science-driven information and in-depth explanations of training concepts.
Koop, who coaches a number of top ultrarunners including Dakota Jones, winner of 2016’s Squamish 50-Mile and Kaci Lickteig, winner of the 2016 Western States, draws on scientific research to explain why he coaches the way he does.
Koop’s techniques differ from those of many other ultrarunning coaches in the way he organizes and concentrates training workload and intensity. In the book, he covers advanced topics like “The Physiology of Building a Better Engine,” a demonstration of your body’s different energy systems and the need for specificity, and “The Technology of Ultrarunning,” which illustrates Koop’s methodology for comparing workloads and work rates from one day and one season to the next.
Additionally, everything from “fat as optimal fuel” to “why speed training is best utilized early in the season” is covered in this soon-to-become staple of all things ultrarunning.
While this book doesn’t include training plans for your first 50K, you will find the specific training plans that Koop’s athletes have used, like Dylan Bowman’s training leading up to the 2014 Western States (where he placed third). Readers will find these tables useful as they demonstrate how Koop schedules work on his clients’ strengths closer to the race and their weaknesses farther away.
Reader’s Tip: Koop’s done the hard work for you with his coaching guides to popular North American ultramarathons like Badwater 135, Hardrock 100 and Lake Sonoma 50, included in the book. These include specs like course records, cutoff times and total climbing, in addition to training and race-strategy tips (think where in the race you should be prepared to take it easy and where you should try to push).
The Ultra Mindset
by Travis Macy with John Hanc
What it is: Advice on how to achieve a postitive mindset through Macy’s years of experience as an adventure racer and ultramarathoner.
Best for: Beginner to advanced athletes looking to better their mental stamina (or pessimists who need a mindset reboot).
Those who know Travis as an athlete know his optimism is contagious, and this book is no different. Part autobiography, part self-help, The Ultra Mindset uses Travis’s experiences as an adventure racer and endurance athlete to explain a series of eight principles that allow success in sports, business and relationships.
You can’t help but grow fond of Travis as he explains how he’s learned to balance parenthood with training for races like Leadman and FKTs like the Zion Traverse. Each chapter opens with a story on how Travis developed his “mindset,” then continues with a section on how and why it worked. Activity sheets at the end of each chapter serve as starting points for readers interested in incorporating the mindset into their personal toolbox.
For anyone looking to become more optimistic—especially when the running gets tough—this is a must-read.
Reader’s Tip: The appendix summarizes all eight “ultra mindsets,” for easy reference long after you’ve finished the book. Mindset 7 (“Bad Stories, Good Stories: The Ones You Tell Yourself Make All The Difference”) is especially relevant to ultrarunning.
Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for an Ultramarathon from 50K to 100 Miles and Beyond
by Hal Koerner with Adam W. Chase
What it is: A handbook to training and running a successful 50K, 50-mile, 100K or 100-mile race.
Best for: Beginners, or any athletes who need a quick reference on “what if” situations.
Koerner—an ultrarunner with more than 90 podium places, the owner of Ashland, Oregon’s Rogue Valley Runners store and the race director of Pine to Palm 100—knows what he’s talking about. Topics include the basics of how to train, what to wear and how to fuel for an ultramrathon, but questions that aren’t covered in other guides are covered in detail here; “Should I Shave?”, “Pain Relievers” and “When You Have to Go–A Few Tips” are thoroughly discussed. Expert tips are scattered throughout, with most topics explained through Koerner’s own experience.
While the training plans at the end of the book aren’t as thorough as in some other books, his honest, personal take is helpful and approachable for beginner and intermediate ultrarunners. His book is best read by identifying an issue you’re concerned about and scanning the contents for the appropriate chapter.
Reader’s Tip: Dog-ear the “Top 10 Must Do’s on Race Day,” which include having more than one goal if your race goes awry.
The Sage Running Secret: A Guide to Speedy Ultras: How to run faster on any surface at any distance
by Sage Canaday with Sandi Nypaver
Price: $8.99 for eBook only; $24.99 for eBook with training plans for 50K and 50-mile to 100K goals.
What it is: A short eBook containing self-described “golden nuggets of training wisdom.”
Best for: Beginners and those wanting a quick read that discusses basic running terms and techniques from the pros.
Sage Canaday hurtled onto the ultrarunning scene following a successful stint as a collegiate and post-collegiate athlete, with several wins at the 50K, 50-mile and 100K distances. The Sage Running Secret uses Canaday’s years of personal experience as an athlete and coach to introduce terms like fartlek and tempo, then explain why ultrarunners should be adding speed work into their training.
Through a variety of metaphors (making a pizza, Prius vs. Mustang), Canaday shows readers that, with some tweaks, becoming a more efficient and powerful runner is possible.
The book, which explains the basics of terms like lactate threshold, periodization and VO2 max, is best suited for beginners because of its at times overly simplified explanations.
Favorite Advice: “You can’t have a perfect pizza that is ideal to eat all the time, and you can’t be in peak race shape for the entire year. Something always has to give.”
Running Your First Ultra: Customizable Training Plans for Your First 50K to 100-Mile Race
by Krissy Moehl
What it is: A comprehensive training guide, with training plans, for your first 50K to 100-mile race.
Best for: Beginners to advanced athletes, especially women.
Krissy Moehl’s book is almost coffee-table worthy, with its large format and stunning pictures, but there’s more-than-you’ve-bargained-for information here.
Personal anecdotes give meaning to subjects like “Body Care,” “Night Running” and “Race Mentality”, including sections on how to mentally prepare yourself for each phase of training. In a chapter titled “Run Like a Girl,” Moehl discusses women-specific gear, pregnancy and the menstrual cycle–topics that are rarely, if ever, mentioned in comparable trail- and ultrarunning books.
Several quizzes and goal-setting worksheets balance thorough and easy-to-fill-in training plans for 50K, 50-mile and 100-mile distances. A packing list for crew, fuel chart and race budget are just a few of the logs presented at the end. Plus, Moehl is a fan of strength work, so expect a host of core and full-body exercises to be incorporated into your training.
Favorite Advice: “You are your best teacher. Use this and other resources as your guides as you learn; tune in and listen to your body for the greatest lessons.”