Krissy Moehl’s Running Your First Ultra – book review

Krissy Moehl’s Running Your First Ultra – book review

I’ve eventually learned that if I don’t record obligations in my calendar, it is highly likely that I will forget about them. Unfortunately, that was the case with helping to promote top female ultrarunner Krissy Moehl‘s new book, Running Your First Ultra, and her tour that landed her in the Bay Area a week ago. Though I wasn’t able to attend any of Krissy’s events, I wanted to still share my impressions of her book. (And yep, her people sent it to me for free – disclosing those sorts of details are good – but my thoughts are my own).

I immediately noticed that Krissy’s book is impressive, not just in the sundry details that comprise ultrarunning and appropriate training for an event that goes beyond 26.2 miles, but also in the book’s sheer aesthetics. It’s nearly 250 heavy pages – the type of book that stays open and is “hands free” (think recipe books) – and is replete with tons of charts, graphs, workbook-type of note-taking sections, and beautiful – beautiful – photographs of Krissy on her runs and races. It’s not exactly a coffee table-style of book about running, but dammit if it isn’t effortless to just turn page after page to look at all the pretty pictures and charts.

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Readers of my little corner of the internet know that my running is entrenched in the roads/marathon realm, but at the end of 2014, shortly before I got pregnant (and apparently thereafter as well), I trained for and ran my first trail 50k over in Woodside. It was awesome, I enjoyed the training and the racing and the whole ultra vibe, and when my kiddos are older, I’d love to return to the ultra distances. I followed the Relentless Forward Progress training for my 50k, read a ton of stuff from accomplished ultra runners online, and heeded much of the advice and wisdom from my friends who had run ultras. I preface my review of Krissy’s book with all this information simply to show that while I consider myself a decently experienced marathoner, my amateur expertise (that’s a thing, right?) doesn’t lie in the ultra world – though I have what I consider to be a solid working knowledge of the training, nutrition, and gearing aspects inherent to the sport.

Let me just say this: if you want to dabble in the quixotic world of ultras, Krissy’s book has your back. Aside from the fact that she’s got a 15 year career in the business, she also has run more than 100 races, has 55 F wins, 2 OA wins, and has run and record-broken at some of the world’s most grueling ultras (think HURT 100, Hardrock 100, and more). When I taught writing, rhetoric, and discourse, we often talked about authorial ethos, the credibility (or lack thereof) that a writer/rhetor brings to a piece of writing. When writers don’t know what they’re talking about – when they are lacking in credibility – it undermines everything they say in their writing; they leave their readers questioning at best, challenging at worst, every argument they put forth. On the flip side, when writers actually know their subject matter, it’s evident. Mini WRD lesson over … Suffice it to say that Krissy has imbued her book with page after page of authorial ethos. She knows her stuff.

Running Your First Ultra has the typical stuff in many books about ultrarunning – info related to training plans (including week-by-week plans), injury prevention, mental training, race day prep – but also specialized information related to being a female ultrarunner. This is really the only area of the book where I think readers could benefit from some elaboration or clarification. Being that Krissy is a) a woman and b) devoted an entire chapter, albeit a short one, to women running ultras, she talks about the implications of (ultra) running through pregnancy. She makes it clear that her judgement isn’t coming from personal experience and instead, just from observations of and conversations with other female ultra runners. Krissy discourages women from running ultras while pregnant for all the obvious reasons – imploring readers to consult with their practitioners to develop a safe running plan while pregnant to maintain fitness – and reminds pregnant runners to continuously listen to the feedback their pregnant bodies give them. I totally agree with everything she says in this section.

Where she loses me a bit though is when she gives pregnant runners the tip to exercise at a conversational pace (right on, totally agree) and/or with a heart rate monitor (oh no) and try to keep the HR below 150 (no no no), noting that of course, this HR number will depend on the pregnant woman’s fitness level in the first place. Though she obviously hedged her recommendation with the “keep it conversational” and “your HR will depend on your fitness” pieces, I think she would have done a greater service to her readers to not include the HR number, simply because runners often are very detail-driven and fixate on numbers; I’m sure all of us know or can identify with trying to exactly hit our metrics and not go an inch above or below them. She says 150, so I bet there are runners out there who will strive for exactly 150.

I’m not faulting Krissy here – again, she says up front that this is coming from observations and conversations, not from her personal experiences – but I’m surprised that more people don’t know that HR-based training during pregnancy went out the window some time ago. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is pretty explicit in their recommendations of using a 15-point perceived effort scale to guide a woman’s training while pregnant – not heart rate – and detail their opinion here. Regardless, the faulty HR recommendation isn’t enough for me to lose interest or discredit this otherwise descriptive and thorough book – a manual, even – for how to plan for, train, and run your first 50k to 100 miler.

Rambling aside, I enjoyed reading through Running Your First Ultra and would recommend it to anyone considering venturing down the rabbit hole that is ultra running. If you’re not in that camp (yet … wink) and know someone who is, I think this book would make an excellent gift, too. Fair warning though: if you’re on the fence about making the jump to the ultra world, this book will probably seal the deal… and then you can come back and tell me all about how awesome your first ultra was.

2 thoughts on “Krissy Moehl’s Running Your First Ultra – book review

  1. I would definitely love the charts, graphs, and workbook feel of the book. Agree that heart rate is depends so much on the individual, and she should not have thrown down an arbitrary number, especially for pregnant women. Anyway, I don’t think I’ll do an ultra anytime soon – at least until I get where I want to be with the regular marathon. However, I would definitely pick up this book if I’m sitting on the fence between sanity and “Ultraland”!

    1. haha, somewhere between sanity and ultraland sounds about right. and yea, you’d love the workbook aspects of the book! 🙂

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