Book Review: Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning

hk bookHal Koerner is a legend in ultra-running, and especially in the 100 mile sphere. He’s a 2-time winner of Western States as well as taking the 2012 Hard Rock 100 title. What he doesn’t know about running these unique endurance events you could probably write on the back of a stamp, and still have room for a Haiku. Therefore, when a great such as Hal brings a book out titled Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for an Ultramarathon, from 50k to 100 miles and Beyond then you have to think it’s going to be a pretty definitive guide to the sport.

And in a way it is. And in a way it isn’t.

I was excited to get this book for my birthday (thanks Liz and Jimmy!) and took it with me on holiday this week. As a start point, I devoured it in 4-days. This was partly due to the ease in which it is laid out, and the length, which once the training section is taken out at the back, isn’t too great. The book is split into sections as you would expect, making it easy to look up what is relevant to you.

Ultimately, the way I felt about this book with a running analogy? It was like being excited for my first trail 100 miler only to find out it was 50% road. It was good, I enjoyed it but it wasn’t quite what I expected and I was left wanting more of the good stuff.

Personally, I preferred Bryon Powell’s Relentless Forward Progress as a reference guide towards ultras, especially for those early in their long-run career. Hal’s book is definitely worth having on your shelf if you are new to the scene, but even in my relatively short time running ultras I got very little new from it, aside from some really good affirmation around nutrition and assurance in that direction.

But I guess that is the point of the book in many ways to guide (the clue is in the title) rather than be a definitive encyclopedia on the matter. But I still expected a wee bit more. I felt that Koerner’s own stories and personality could have shone through more. Sure, there are anecdotes and references to his own experiences, but they are high-level and certainly not in-depth. Maybe interspersing the practical with the personal would have made things more engaging.

The advice is general, quite sound and safe. Lots of ‘this works for me but you’ll need to work out what is best for you’ type of considerations. And that’s the way it is in this sport. One person’s stomach settler is another’s toilet bringer and all that. This is all very fair and understandable. These sections could maybe have had more depth to them, and brought in studies or widely recognised alternatives to Hal’s opinions to enhance the book. This is the more I wanted. I wanted deeper advice and to hear more about Hal himself.

To finish, readers are gifted some training plans for 50k and beyond, and they look sound (as you would expect) but are very different to some of the things I do; which in turn would be very different to some of the things you might do (and so on). Much like the rest of the book, a personal slant on these will be needed.

My overall thoughts on Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for an Ultramarathon, from 50k to 100 miles and Beyond is that it is a great book for newbies, an OK book for people a few years into ultra-running who have read up the sport and probably not necessary for experienced runners. I enjoyed it, it affirmed that a lot of what I do is about right, and what I plan on doing is headed in the right direction.

I look forward to meeting Hal for a short-period of time on the trails in June at the West Highland Way. For now, I will use his advice to plot his downfall. Damn, there is no section on setting traps!!




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