Mental Training for Ultrarunning: Your Psychological Skills Guidebook for Ultra Success, by Addie Bracy. Human Kinetics, 2022. Reviewed by trail runner Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian.
“Any idiot can run a marathon. It takes a special kind of idiot to run an ultramarathon.” Variations of this iconic quote show up on t-shirts, Facebook posts and bragging-rights photos. But aside from the bravado and the humor, is it really true? Two time USATF Mountain Running Champion, sports psychologist and leading ultrarunner Addie Brady’s offering, Mental Training for Ultrarunning, demonstrates the fallacy of this admittedly humorous perception with her detailed guide to the vast amount of mental preparation necessary to have a satisfying ultra experience.
Those who venture beyond the 26.2 mile marathon distance share a desire to do something epic. For most, the race becomes more about participating in a great adventure than achieving a certain time. With a roughly one in three chance of completing a 100 kilometer or 100 mile event, where it is unrealistic to duplicate that distance in training, another skill set beyond physical capacity is obviously needed.
Enter Addie Brady and her mental training approach introducing guilt-free “down” time to hone your mindset skills. In a salute to sustainability, I make an effort to purchase only those books that I know I will peruse again and again. This is one of those books. Indeed, the scope of Bracy’s insights cannot be fully absorbed on a single reading, despite the fact that her language is clear and direction well-chosen.
Each chapter reads like a motto, “Stick to the Grind,” “Run with Courage,” “Get Out of Your Own Way,” and besides the information about achieving each outlook, features mental skills training reflections and a case study of a world-class athlete who showcases this particular expertise. It is like you are running with Addie right beside you and more than once I have asked myself, “What would Addie say?”
But, to be honest, what really drew me in were her extensive research and literary references, all of which can be accessed in her extensive bibliography. She totally won me over in her “Be Adaptable” chapter where she discusses my all-time favorite, Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why, by Laurence Gonzales, that I have tried without success to get my friends to read. Perhaps now they will. Gonzales treads the thin line between emotion and reason and explains how both are necessary for the highest level of peak performance: survival. In another of my favorites, “Run the Mile You’re In,” she examines the use of focus and flow, first explored by Mihlay Csikszentmihalyi in his classic Flow and later in Running Flow.
The only difficulty I had with reading this book was that fact that about half way through I reached a state of paralysis trying to absorb it all. Not a good thing for a runner! So I decided to concentrate on one chapter at a time to fully develop that particular skill set, imagining that Brady was my personal weekly coach. Start first with the second chapter to explore your why and then feel free to take a deep dive into whatever topic intrigues you the most. I have learned from this read that the brain is a muscle, similar to any other, and does better with gradual, purposeful training.