Until relatively recently completing a marathon was seen as the pinnacle of a runner’s achievement.
Once they had completed the 26.2 miles runners tended to then strive to do it faster, but not many chose to run further. However recent years have seen a boom in “Ultra Running” with runners swapping tarmac for trails and often covering 30, 50 or 100 miles and in some cases even further over several days. In his book The Rise of the Ultra Runners (A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance) Adharanand Finn looks into what is behind the desire to go further, to push on for longer and to endure what was not long ago thought to be mad or even impossible.
The author was already a fairly experienced road runner when his work as a journalist led him to take the step into ultra running; The Financial Times wanted an article about the Oman Desert Marathon, a multi day stage race and Finn decided that it would be an adventure. This led him on a journey to find out what motivates people to take part in such events and also, having survived 100 miles in the desert, to wonder how far he could push his own physical boundaries. So from there he set about accumulating enough qualifying points to enter and then complete the Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc. Along the way he delves deep into the ultra running scene, interviewing and spending time with some of the sport’s top runners and competing in races in the UK, Europe, South Africa and the USA.
The book gives an interesting insight from two fronts – there’s the journalistic aspect where Finn interviews some of the sport’s biggest names (including Kilian Jornet, Sage Canaday, Zach Miller, Elisabet Barnes, Damian Hall) and also a personal one as he recounts the highs of finishing and the lows of pain, suffering and hallucinations that he experiences whilst taking part in various races. Finn touches on the questions around doping in the sport and also discusses why – when the marathon running world is dominated by Kenyan and Ethiopian runners – there are no East Africans on the Ultra Running scene.
The Rise of the Ultra Runners gives a fascinating insight into the world of ultra distance running. You don’t need to be an ultra runner yourself to enjoy it but it will certainly appeal to anyone interested in running further than 26.2 miles.