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Tuesday, October 4 2011

World's Ultimate Running Races

I've just received the recently published World's Ultimate Running Races - 500 Races, 101 Countries, Choose your adventure. I guess it would be best defined as an illustrated guide book of the most iconic races in the world.

world's ultimate running races

It certainly contains a variety of races, from 5km to 3100 miles (4989km), grouped in 10 categories (cross country, mountain, multi-terrain, road, snow, stage, stairs, track, trail, and ultra).

That said, I am not entirely sure how Angela Mudge has selected the "most exhilarating and remarkable races". Why including the Belfast Marathon but not Dublin's for example? Furthermore, the selection is heavily Anglocentric. About 70 of these races take place in the UK, but less than 30 in France. This seems rather disproportionate, since the ahotu calendar lists 424 races in the UK, against 1199 in France. Are the French ones statistically 6 times less "interesting", or has the author's origin biased the selection?

Pictures certainly make you want to travel the world for these races. How long until someone takes on the challenge to run them all? Not that I could take part in the challenge, since I wouldn't be able to enter the "Adidas Women's only 5km" in Hyde Park and the "Women's mini Marathon" in Dublin...

Little game: how many of these races have I completed? And let's get even more playful: a bottle of Champagne for the first to give me the exact race list without prior knowledge of the book. Leave answer in comments.

Ultra challenges

Wednesday, February 23 2011

127 HOURS: Between a Rock and a Hard Place


I've just finished reading "127 HOURS: Between a Rock and a Hard Place" by Aron Ralston. To cut the story short (sic), Aron got stuck in a remote canyon when a large chockstone trapped his arm against the canyon wall. Because of the isolation of the place and his failure to tell anyone where he was going beforehand (sic), he didn't have the chance to get any assistance for 5 days. He tried unsuccessfully to cut the rock with a low quality knife and to pull it up using some kind of pulley system. Finally, the lack of water and the sleep deprivation convinced him to cut his arm off with a blunt knife blade. Bones were snapped by applying some torque...

As a true story of someone injured and stuck in a remote place without much food or water, it obviously reminded me Touching the Void (Joe Simpson), although I would say Joe might be better writer. Just as in Joe's book, the novel is full of memories from previous trips interleaved with the main matter. Whilst some of them are pretty cool, others are rather boring, and sometimes too much detailed. Many of them give an insight on the author's views on mountaineering and his life. A bit sad in a way, as it's mostly about soloing.

That said I could often relate to him for a number of reasons. Getting into slightly tricky situations. Learning winter hiking the hard way when you've never done it before, in a self-taught fashion. The mental state you're in in ultramarathon-like mountain trips. Finding your limits.

Ultra stuck

Wednesday, June 3 2009

Born to Run

I've just finished reading "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen" by Christpher McDougall, as recommended by Jon. I have to say I didn't get caught immediately into the story, as the start seemed a bit too random to be true but too slow for a fiction. But once I got into it, I couldn't let the book down!

born to run

The story line is build upon the succession of events leading to the first Tarahumara long-distance race where some Gringos were invited. The Tarahumara live in the Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon) in the Sierra Madre mountain range in Mexio, and are well-known for their superior abilities in long-distance running. In fact, running is still an essential part of their lifestyle. This frame allows the author to bring together a large number of facts and anecdotes about ultrarunning that are more or less related to the race. Those include for example famous runners, (Emil Zápotek, Ann Trason, Scott Jurek, ...), coaches, sport scientists, and mythic races (Leadville 100, Badwater, ...).

The book is clearly on the same line as "Survival of the fittest" (Mike Stroud), as they both argue that the human is designed to run, and our current lazy lifestyle is the cause of a large number of diseases. Although both authors are keen on anecdotes, McDougall writes in a much more colloquial American style compared to Stroud's doctoral British English. Their approaches differ significantly as well: rather than scientific and teleologic evidence, we're provided with a converging beam of examples. Furthermore, while "Survival of the fittest" argued that the human body was designed to run, the key contribution from "Born to run" is to precise that it is designed to run barefoot.

Indeed, the Tarahumara run in extremely thin sandals and don't seem to get into any trouble without protective cushioning and motion control technologies. Barefooting is advocated throughout the book through the voice of Barefoot Ted, a barefooting/Vibram Five Finger aficionado. The logic is quite simple: the human have been running for millions of years without shoes, and running in cushioned shoes alters the natural stride, leading to problems that may even never have occurred otherwise, and that might need to be compensated further...

To be read again!

Ultra I-want-to-go-running book

Tuesday, March 10 2009

Survival of the fittest

I've just managed to finish reading "Survival of the fittest: understanding health and peak physical performance" by Mike Stroud. Although very easy reading book, it took me ages given my current lack of spare time and general tiredness.

The book proposes to explain the human adaptation capability from an evolutionary perspective. Mike relies on his own globe-trotter experience to illustrate how humans are actually far more able to run long distances and cope with very hot or cold weather than most people would commonly imagine. Striking examples include his 0.2mmoles/L blood glucose level during his cross-Antarctica with Ran Fiennes when normal values range between 4 and 10, the 9-day survival of Mauro Prosperi lost in the desert without water during the Marathon des Sables, and the completion of the Eco-Challenge by of his 70 years old dad, involving several days of virtually non-stop running, hiking, cycling, climbing and canoeing.

A teleologic approach is often employed to reach this goal: assuming that we haven't evolved much physically in the last 10,000 years, we should still be able perform as our ancestor used to. Whilst I came to a number of similar conclusions myself in the last couple of years, such as that nearly everyone under the age of 70 can potentially run a marathon if they're dedicated enough, and that our body will happily deal with all kinds of junk food as long as we exercise enough to maintain a high food throughput, it was really pleasant to read a doctor formulating clearly these opinions.

Ultra feel-good book.

Thursday, December 11 2008

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

A couple of weeks ago (time flies these days) I've attended a lecture by Sir Ranulph Fiennes at the Royal Geographical Society. In short Ran was a polar explorer but lately attempted Everest twice, climbed Eiger north face (as an attempt to cure his vertigo) and ran 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents... and all that after a coronary bypass following a heart attack. In other words, it was a pretty motivational conference, giving loads of good ideas ;) . But also showing that willingness can overcome pretty much everything...

with Ran

After the lecture, as I was asking for an autograph, Ran realised I was French and started to tell me (in French) about his French ancestor Eustache Fiennes emigrating to England along with the Norman invasion. Indeed his family used to live in the eponym village in the North of France. He surprised me a bit as he mentioned that his ancestor actually killed the English King Harold II at Hastings. It is assumed that he was wounded and/or killed by an arrow in his eye, but Ran suggested that his opportunistic ancestor used the occasion to finish him off with a large axe. That somehow reminded me a bit of Capitaine Haddock talking about his ancestor the Knight François de Hadoque.

Ultra motivation.

Thursday, January 10 2008

Extreme running

I just read "Extreme running", a new coffee table book by Kym McConnell and Dave Horsley. It's all about extreme races across the globe, and written in quite a sensationalist way, full of superlatives, as each race seems to be the toughest on Earth, taking place on the most hostile environment :) . I guess it's hard to tell whether it's more dangerous to be lost in the Sahara desert, attacked by a jaguar in the jungle or stuck in a blizzard by -40°C near the North Pole...

Extreme Running

A total of 24 races are introduced, eg. 3 or 4 races per continent. For some reason, one race per continent is much more detailed than the others, including loads of anecdotes, and a subjective day-by-day race report. This creates a strange contrast with other races described somehow more objectively in only 2 to 4 pages. I guess the aim was to show the overall challenges given by each continent, but I'd prefer something a bit more consistent across the races.

Nevertheless, it's full of great pictures and definitively inspiring!

Just for fun, a list of superlatives inspired from the book: We don't even talk about distances here, as it is only a minor factor with respect to other issues...

Ultra coffee table book.

Monday, March 5 2007

Coureurs Solitaires

Yesterday, I read Coureurs Solitaires (Solitary Runners) by Franck Braine. It's a novel about ultra, so I felt like reading the 270 pages in one go to get properly into it ;)

This is the story of a truly crazy race in an apocalyptic, post nuclear war future. Most of the Earth surface has been swept off. The Race consists of running days in the desert, in bogs and in the mountains. Runners get their "road-book" at the control points every 500km or so. Therefore, the route and final destination are unknown at the beginning, and the runners need to adapt to the changing conditions during The Race.
Running is not all, competitors need a lot of surviving skills in agressive and isolated environments to finish the race alive. This is even more essential from the third day on, as runners got the right to kill their opponents (without firearms, though...). Team building is encouraged to face troubles, although extremely risky as your mates will soon or later necessarily turn into competitors.
Due to an efficient world-wide 3D broadcasting of The Race deployed by a totalitarian government, the winner is entitled to become a sort of God. The previous winner is competing again this year. He's making a team with a feline-like woman. I can't tell you much more without spoiling the story ...
Most of the characters seem quite real, with human motivations you can sometimes identify with, although maybe not to the same extend. Runners seem to be powered by some sort of primitive instincts such as hate, love, vengance or domination. The book is quite easy reading, but intense. The more the story goes on, the more you feel like putting energy and speed in the reading, as if you wanted to run faster.

Coureurs Solitaires

Unfortunately for you, my dear English reader, this book is only available in its original French version.

Ultra novel.

Monday, January 15 2007

Lore of running

I've started to read Tim Noakes' Lore of running (4th ed.), considered by some as the runner's bible. In 950 pages it covers everything you can imaging about running, from the muscles structure to the food assimilation, from mental preparation to overtraining, from 10km to ultra... It is written in an scientific (yet accessible) style. The references, that can be downloaded separetely, cover 100 pages (probably about 1700 of them). I may write a couple of entries about intersting ideas I find in it.

Lore of running (cover)

I started by reading the ultramarathon section, which may not be optimal as it refers a lot to the previous chapters.
  • The training volume for my level should be around 50 to 100km per week ! I think I've never been much over 50km on a regular basis. To be assessed...
  • Noakes reckons running only one ultra a year or even every other year is preferable for performance.
  • Cross-training is of importance, particularly non weight-bearing sports such as cycling and swimming.
  • It's better to run faster the second half of an ultramarathon. That means setting a time objective for the second half alone. I'm wondering to what extend this applies to races such as the UTMB, where even the best runners show slowing down coefficients of about 0.8. How is it possible to stay over 1 ?
  • Women sometimes perform better in ultra mostly because ... they have more fat.
Ultra book.
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