There are a lot of books out there about running. A lot. And you can find tons giving you instruction on running 5K's, half-marathons and marathons. But for a long time there has been a need for books on running ultramarathons. Yes, there are memoirs like Karnazes' Ultramarathon Man and Pam Reed's The Extra Mile, but there hasn't been a good reference how-to book for going longer than 26 miles, 385 yards.
Now that gap has been filled. If you've done any ultra running or have poked around the internet for information on the subject, you probably recognize the name Bryon Powell. Bryon is the proprietor of iRunFar.com as well as the author of numerous articles published in magazines such as Trail Runner and Runner's World recent Trail Running Supplement. Relentless Forward Progress is both a reprint and expansion of the articles he's written as well as much of the information previously published on iRunFar.com.
With his ultrarunning experience, Powell could have written the entire book off the top of the head. But if he did, he might have missed much that is still unclear to the ultrarunning community as a whole. For instance he provided both sides to the argument for and against speedwork as preparation for an ultramarathon. He enlisted superstars (as much as the sport has them) Geoff Roes (con) and Ian Torrence (pro) to pen these articles. There are also short pieces by Krissy Moehl, Dr. David Horton, Jon Vonhof (author of Fixing Your Feet), Michael Wardian and many others. It makes it abundantly clear that this book is not just "one man's opinion" (a disclaimer often affixed to ultra running advice found online).
Bryon's advice is thorough - he gives instructions about racing at altitude (much of which is totally new and very appreciated by an East Coast resident like myself), running in heat (which I had already figured out - pieced together from dozens, if not hundreds, of particles of information spread across the world-wide-web) and fueling during an ultra (which makes sense of the hundreds of bits of information spread across the world-wide-web for me). He also touches on things you might not even think about until you found yourself in a pickle; symptoms for high altitude pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema, hypothermia, frostbite, and heatstroke and even how to relieve oneself in the woods with a bit of decorum (both #1 and #2).
There are three sets of training plans in the book. Two for 50K training, two for 40-mile to 100K training and two for 100 mile training, with each set including a 50 miles per week plan and a 70 miles per week plan (these are in reference more to the peak week of training, rather than the average). You can probably find similar training plans online. But what you won't find online is a thorough explanation on how to use the plans, incorporate speedwork (if you so choose) in the plans, modify the plans to work in "real" life and even a quick reference next to each plan on handling active recovery, back-to-back long runs, long runs, modifying the plan, speed work and training for course specifics. Having not only the plans but instructions to make the plans work, really set this apart from any other ultrarunning reference (which is really all found online).
There was some information that seemed extraneous, such as the inclusion of Eric Grossman's article on in-race management in the Highland Sky 40 which felt more like a piece of poetic prose than an illustration on how to adjust when things are quite right in a race situation. Also the "Protect-A-Place" article by Dakota Jones had me pretty lost. I also didn't find much "How to Fall" to much help - but that's because I don't fall (well, only twice - and once was a freak occurance). (I promise you I will post about it the next time I do fall - but you may be waiting a while -its been two years, so check back often.)
Also, I would have liked to have seen more addressed on chaffing issues - Powell's advice on nipple chaffing is to just use a band-aid, which I can tell you from experience that it takes a bit more than that if its an issue for you. But it is a pretty individualized issue in that everyone experiences chaffing in different places in different ways, but perhaps we'll see more on the topic on iRunFar.
Perhaps the best thing about this book is that Bryon recognizes that it's not complete. It includes a "call for feedback" and he will be publishing supplements to Relentless Forward Progress on iRunFar based on that feedback.
For the bookish runner (like myself) Relentless Forward Progress deserves a place on your bookshelf - maybe next to the Jeff Galloway book you picked up when you started running, since this is really the ultimate guide for the beginning ultra runner.
The official release date for Relentless Forward Progress is April 29, but it is already out on Kindle and can be purchased at iRunFar.com.
Update: This week to celebrate the release of Relentless Forward Progress, iRunFar is celebrating a week full of giveaways! Go to iRunFar.com for details.