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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.



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.

2015: a look back

2015: a look back

New years is one of my favorite times of the year — it’s in my top 3! — in no small part because it makes me purposefully take stock of what has happened in my life. Obviously, I can (and should) do this all year round, but I think there’s sometimes some sort of calendar magic that comes with some year-end reflection.

All told, I got super lucky with my running in 2015. Going into this year, I was coming hot off the highest mileage I had ever posted in a calendar year — something just shy of 2,620 (easy to remember). I thought that maybe I’d be able to top that this year as I went after a 26.2 PR and my first 50 miler, but right after I ran the 50k in December, I learned I was pregnant, so I quickly put those big mileage and PR plans on hold. Concurrent with the pregnancy announcement were some shitty first trimester annoyances like incessant dizziness, mind-splitting headaches, and the desire to lie horizontally in a cold, dark room, void of any life, with my eyes closed — annoyances that aren’t super conducive to being human, generally speaking, much less to running. Needless to say, though the year began pretty rough in terms of running (and who am I kidding, in terms of feeling like myself), fortunately those shitty annoyances passed, and it seemed like the more pregnant I got, more often than not, the more comfortable running felt. So weird how that worked out.

TSFM shakeout before TSFM’s 5k at 36 weeks pregnant. SO FUN (PC: Keith)

Suffice it to say that 2015 wasn’t the year for chasing mileage or race PRs; instead, more than anything, it was about running because I wanted to, because I felt like it, and because I enjoyed how it made me feel (pregnant or postpartum). I’ve been doing this stuff long enough now that I don’t expect to PR year after year; it’s just not realistic. Honestly, sometimes running just for the sake of running is pretty damn awesome. 2015 reminded me of that repeatedly.

For the curious ones out there, here’s how each month’s mileage fared. In a few of these months, the mileage includes a few walking miles, but by and large, these numbers are all running. Right, now we’re sitting at over 1,100 for the year. The shakeout:

January: 30.54

February: 70.87

March: 90.75

April: 97.46

May: 128.18

June: 122.99

July: 123.85

August: 36.20 – had the baby early in the month

September: 50.76 – had surgery about a month postpartum

October: 123.02 – yet another surgery about a month after the first

November: 140.34

I was also lucky to be able to run throughout my pregnancy, virtually up until the day I delivered, and I consider myself stupidly fortunate to have been able to resume running as quickly as I have postpartum. Pregnancy is such a game-changer, and the same goes for postpartum; in fact, NPR even recently wrote a story on how childbirth can be considered a type of “extreme” sport and even likened it to marathon running (of course). You really have no idea what it’s (pregnancy and birth, specifically) going to be like, so you also have no idea of how you’re going to feel in the days, weeks, or months (years?) afterward. That said, I am so happy that my postpartum running has been coming along as smoothly as it has and that my body handled an intervention-less labor and delivery as well as it did.

Throughout the pregnancy, I pregnant-raced in a handful of comped races, thanks to various social media ambassador hats I was wearing, and I enjoyed all of them, especially the races where Big Sis participated. The races included the Race to the Row 408k here in San Jose; the baby mama stroller 5k, wherein I pushed A and we won the stroller division; the AAUW Wildflower 5k stroller run again with A, wherein she actually got out and ran parts of the race herself (her first time doing that!); the San Luis Obispo half marathon; the ZOOMA Napa Valley half marathon; the SF marathon’s 5k; and postpartum, the Let’s Go 510 10k up in Berkeley; the Mermaid Series’ Sirena 10 miler in SF; and the Berkeley Half Marathon.

When it comes to this year’s running lowlights, only one thing comes to mind – virtually the entire month of January. The aforementioned first trimester stuff knocked me on my ass for a lot of that month, and even thinking about running was dreadful. I was so relieved when that shitty stage passed! All the races I did pregnant or postpartum were for fun, so it’s hard to say that any of them had any low moments. I’m mildly disappointed that ZOOMA won’t be returning to Napa next year, since I kinda vowed to dominate that race next year after blowing up on it in 2014 and running it pregnant this year (and obviously not racing it), but c’est la vie. Out of my control. I’ll find another race to dominate. 🙂

Really, I think I can say every race I ran this year gave me something to be happy about, some sort of highlight, if you will. Since I didn’t race race anything this year, I genuinely enjoyed myself at each race and walked away from each experience with something that made me happy. I generally don’t purchase races and decide to just run for fun because that can get expensive quickly, but this year, I feel like pregnant-racing gave me tons of opportunities to still be in the thick of the running community, even though I had taken a step back from the racing one (if that makes any sense). It just feels good to be part of something bigger, I guess. The pics from the races in each linked RR speak for themselves; I’m generally just happy to be out there in the first place.

Without a doubt, 2015 has been excellent, and I’m looking forward to 2016. Though I have big goals and plans in mind, I’m also very patient with this process and know that it took me a lot of time to get to where I was pre-pregnancy; with that in mind, I don’t expect to be back where I was anytime soon. At the risk of sounding like a shitty new ager, I don’t believe in comebacks, in a linear process of advancement; I guess you could say that I believe in something more recursive, in a non-linear journey wherein each “bump” or “setback” is just part of the process: an “opportunity,” if you will. It’s how I write, so I guess it makes sense that it’s also how I run.

To 2016!