The Rise of the Ultra Runners

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

I'm not an Ultra Marathoner, nor do aspire to be one, but I am just fascinated with the sport. Ultra running is exploding in popularity and it seems as if there's no limit to the distances these runners can go. Author and accomplished marathoner Adharanand Finn decided to try ultra running for himself, and after learning more about the sport, sets a goal to earn an entry to the Ultra-Trail de Mont Blanc in France, which along with Western States, is kind of like a Boston Marathon to us road runners. His story, so well told, is remarkable. 
"And it is there, deep in the pain cave, as they told me all along, that the fun really begins." 

published on Goodreads
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I love reading indepth sports books about a subculture that I am only superficially familiar with it. I loved this book. Adharanand Finn explored so many aspects of Ultra Running, while also talking about his own personal journey with the sports. Often with these books, the author focuses too much on their personal life and not enough on the lives as those around them, but this one did not. I appreciated how Finn brought up controversial issues like doping and dealt with the dearth of non-white people in the sport and he pushed back with great questions.I also enjoy how Finn wove in longer profiles of runners he met along the way throughout the entire book's narrative. 

I'm about 10 pages from being done with the book and I'm bummed that it's over. I'm excited to share this book with friends and I'd love to hear more about how Finn went about putting together this book. What were his expenses? How exactly did his family feel about him pursuing this venture? I would have been fine reading more about that but, honestly, I'm fine with it not being in the book too.

I'm excited to see what projects Finn has up his sleeve next. 

I
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Following his adventures among the elite marathoners of Kenya and the monk marathoners of Japan, Adharanand Finn delves into the growing world of ultra running the way one should: with his laces tied.
Finn's healthy dose of skepticism of ultra running as a deviant form of more traditional running unwinds as he finds himself running farther and faster and higher - and finding the reason the sport is on a meteoric rise.. Along the way, Finn answers the inevitable questions and curiosities that accompany ultra running's most inconceivable aspects. 
Most ultra runners have heard ("what about your knees?); Finn gives even-handed feedback from top medical researchers. What is it like to run alone that far? Finn finds that the true beauty of the sport is in its community of elites and amateurs, people who cheer him on as he passes and cheer him on when he falls. Why would anyone want to run that far? In interviews with the sport's rising elite, Zach Miller, Killian Jornet, Hillary Allen and Clare Gallagher contribute their thoughts on ultra's popularity, the funding (or lack thereof) that goes into becoming an ultrarunning elite, and how the deeper meaning behind their competitive races may be the real reason for ultra running's growing appeal. 
Adharanand Finn's The Rise of the Ultra Runners reflects the experience of an amateur road runner discovering the beauty, pain, and purpose of running as far as your legs can go - and then a little bit farther.
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The Rise of the Ultra Runners

Ever wonder what an “Ultra” race is? These races generally are from 50-100 miles long and can take place over a track, a trail, or even Mount Everest. The runners are often quirky, driven, and focused. Obsessed too – maybe just a little. 
The author describes his foray into the ultramarathon world and muses upon human endurance, doping, self-image, and morals, among other things. I will say that I was a bit dubious when he started running, as he didn’t really describe a strict training regimen per se. Yes, he is suffering during many races, but not many people would choose to abuse themselves the way he did to write a book. I’m alternately impressed and doubtful at the same time. That being said, we do learn (as he did) from his mistakes, such as wearing new shoes for the first time in a race and failing to fuel properly. The basic rules of ultras are the same as marathons, along with a healthy dose of mental fortitude plus a little insanity. 
The racers are eager to share stories (and in some instances, their homes) with Finn, both before and after races. The author is adept at describing his transformation from a regular runner to one that can cover 100+ miles despite hallucinations and excruciating pain. Some of the descriptions of the “pain cave” (an ultrarunner term) made me cringe, then allowed me to feel grateful that an ultramarathon was not in my future. He becomes stronger physically and mentally as the book progresses. One good example he describes is about finding a place to sleep. During races that last more than a day, runners must bed down for the night before running again in the morning. Finn tosses and turns as he sleeps on the ground, or in his clothes. Later on, he comes to realize that he can sleep anywhere, because he has evolved to be comfortable with less. Finn often says that he may be becoming like the ultrarunners he is studying, then disavows that statement by saying how far he still has to go figuratively, before he can truly call them his tribe. 
As in most elite sports, these athletes embrace pain and suffering. It is such a big part of their lives that if/when they become injured, they must come to terms with the fact that they may not know who they are without ultras in their life. One runner notes that she feels utterly bereft and needs to learn how to live a normal life, one without hours spent in motion. 
Those who may enjoy this book the most are runners; however, anyone interested in hearing about how the human body can be forced to exceed boundaries will learn a lot from RISE OF THE ULTRARUNNERS. It is definitely a departure from most of the running books on the market.
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4.5 stars, just to get that out of the way.

Breaking into the world of ultra running (there's a good mix of road, trail, track, and sand here), Finn relays a pretty incredible account of his experience: A globe-trotting effort to make and conquer the UTMB in France. Like most, he's wont to commit some costly logistical (and logical) mistakes on the front end, but the hard-earned lessons stick, and you get to live vicariously through him as he muscles through the myriad issues that can pop up in an ultra. 

Finn's prose is smooth, effortlessly describing the locales and, even though it all might seem easy, the timeline within each of the races. Many a race report, regardless of the herculean effort the athlete gave, can be sunken into, at the very best, mediocre-high-school-essay territory if you're not willing to dig in on the details, the structure, the emotion--- and that's just the beginning. You sigh in exasperation when you read (on paper) how ill-prepared he seems to be for some of these challenges; you grin, relieved, as he reaches the finish line (his condition notwithstanding). He's a family man, talented at running road marathons he may be, taking on some of this planet's most hardcore runs. But if that's not enough for you...

There are numerous brief interviews with the finest ultra athletes alive, explorations and musings into why we'd do this to ourselves, why we'd consider cheating after suffering through such trials, why Kenyans haven't broken into the sport (the book's ace-in-the-hole, if you ask me), movement disciplines meant to shy us away from the over-protection of our brain's wiring, and words on particular nutrition programs (vegan, Paleo). The "rise" mentioned on the title could be applied to these elite athletes, who are slowly gaining more notoriety in the secular sports world, and/or to the advent of the sport itself, which is getting exponentially more popular. 

For ultra runners, so many of his quandaries will ring familiar, but anyone who's driven themselves to their prescribed "last resort" and found themselves miles ahead of it will snag tightly onto Finn's story; well, to that point, anyone seeking inspiration may discover it here, too. I find athletes of all types to be inspiring, but there's something about trail running and, ultra trail running specifically, that demands a fight from deep within. Capturing the ups and the downs, the "oops" and the "hoorays", Finn has authored a fine book on how it feels to overcome what at first appears to be insurmountable.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Pegasus Books for the advance read.
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