Relentless Forward Progress: Book Review

If you want to run ultramarathons, you absolutely must read Relentless Forward Progress, A Guide to Running Ultramarathons. In fact, it ought to be a law. However, not all of the book is ultra gold.

RFP (as it is known) offers tips on everything from running trails to race day nutrition to ultra gear. The cheat sheet on hydration is incredibly useful and should be kept in your race-day bag for reference. Sprinkled throughout the book, author Byron Powell includes articles by a number of other prominent ultramarathoners like Eric Grossman and Dave Mackey. There is a lot of experience and miles between the pages. It’s a great primer on running long and lays a solid foundation of knowledge that every ultrarunner should know.

Much of the book is dedicated to training for an ultra, and this is where the book let me down. The training plans offer nothing more than a table of pseudo-randon numbers that add up to 50. Powell’s contention is that by simply running a certain number of miles each week, and increasing mileage over time, you can race and ultra of 50k, 50 miles, or more. This incredibly simplistic approach ignores everything we have learned about endurance, strength, and adaptation over the last 20 years. His plans are akin to believing that you can become a great writer simply by writing more and more words each day.

Simply logging mile after mile is going to take its toll on any runner that does not run with good form, does not have adequate muscular strength, and does not enjoy great mobility. While running more is great for a beginner with poor cardio, running alone isn’t your best path to a great ultra finish. I won’t debate that issue here (that’s another post), but read this short article by Jason Fitzgerald, 2:39 marathoner and USA Track & Field certified coach – 5 Myths About Distance Running. Simply consider this… when you finish a long race or training run, even one that you run real hard, are you out of breath when you finish? No, of course not. But I bet your muscles are tired and I bet they are sore the next day. That should demonstrate a bit about what is limiting your results.

The poor training plans aside, I do recommend Relentless Forward Progress for any budding ultrarunner.