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Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultra Running Book Review

bretto_artAnyone with a passing familiarity to the ultra-running scene has heard of Hal Koerner. As one of the most consistent performers in the sport for more than a decade, Hal has won almost every major 100 mile race at some point in his career.

Ask any ultrarunner whether they learned more from a DNF or a perfect race, and they will most likely say the DNF. Clearly Hal is no exception to this, because instead of using the book to describe the incredible amount of ultras that he has won, he gives specific examples of his failures and mistakes in order to highlight the key points in each chapter. (His anecdote about painful chafing at his first UTMB is particularly amusing).

Prior to this book, the only pure training manual for ultrarunners was Relentless Forward Progress (EB review of RFP) by Bryon Powell. That and a runner’s own endless trial and error. That begs the question…

If I’ve Read Relentless Forward Progress, Should I Read This Too?

Are you a seasoned ultra-running veteran? No. There’s nothing ground-breaking in this book that you wouldn’t have learned from countless hours of training and racing.

Are you an ultra-running nerd? Yes. A long-time ultra vet might not pick up a lot of new tips from this book, but reading about one of the sport’s all-time greats struggling through races and making mistakes like the rest of us is both heartening and inspiring.

Are you a newbie ultra-runner who hasn’t read RFP? Yes, you should read this book too, after reading RFP and maybe trying your first ultra. RFP is a fantastic “ultra-running 101” textbook. Hal’s book can be treated as the next progression in training.

Newbie trail-runner in general? Yes, again with the caveat of reading RFP too. Hal has included a lot of specific advice regarding trail-running, like technique for uphills and downhills, and running in different types of terrain. However, some of his advice on mileage may be too ambitious for a beginner.

Training Plans

In contrast to RFP, the training plans in this book have a much greater emphasis on workouts (speed work, tempo runs, fartleks, etc). Most include six days a week of running, and usually a day with both an AM and PM run. The long runs and back-to-back runs are longer than in RFP, sometimes significantly so. This is another reason I wouldn’t recommend Hal’s book for the absolute beginner, though he does stress being conservative when trying to increase weekly mileage. He also mentions that plans should be changed to fit each person’s lifestyle and circumstances, but doesn’t describe his approach for doing so.

Overall, the chapter on training plans could be much longer. Including some of the logic behind certain choices would be helpful. Instead, the chapter ends abruptly, also ending the book.

Final Impressions

Hal Koerner’s book makes you feel like you’ve hired him as your own personal coach. His casual writing style combined with frequent anecdotes throughout makes the overall tone of the book more relaxed than other books on training. Veterans of the sport may not need to read all of the advice in the book, but reading it is enjoyable all the same.

– Brett Oblack

Talk Hal’s Book

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  • Favorite and most insightful sections?

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About the author

Brett Oblack Brett Oblack found himself unable to run a quarter of a mile without gasping for air. He then trained for races from the 5k to the marathon which solidified an obsession with running. Brett's love of the Southwest landscape led him to trail-running, ultra-running and climbing. For more information on Brett, check out the About page where you can check out his personal blog.

2 Responses to “Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultra Running Book Review”

  1. on 02 Oct 2014 at 6:59 am Teresa Smith

    I agree Hal’s book has more of a sitting together enjoying a friendly cup of coffee together tone. His personal “oops” (mistakes) that made it a great read.

  2. on 03 Oct 2014 at 7:17 am Daily News, Fri, Oct 3

    […] Book review of Hal’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning. […]