Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book Review: Running Across Countries

With Russell Secker at the Tahoe Triple

This summer, I stumbled upon Russell Secker's blog and I have been following it ever since. I read his daily reports from the 2800-mile Trans Europe Race with great interest and wondered what it must be like to run 40+ miles a day for two months. In the eyes of a Transcontinental runner, the Tahoe Super Triple would simply be two short and easy stages and one long one!

Last week, after the Tahoe Triple race buffet, I finally had the privilege to meet Russell in person. He was in Tahoe to help coach some Texas runners to a successful Tahoe Triple finish. I also met Russell's German stage-racing friend Hans Drexler who was running the Tahoe Triple as a "short stage race." Russell was promoting his new book, Running Across Countries and he was also going to run a quick lap around the lake (this was, of course, canceled so he ran the 10K instead).

I bought a signed copy and Chris and Rebecca quickly devoured this 177-page book while they were waiting for me at the different crew stops along the lake. Before I knew it, they were yelling "inspirational" quotes from the book as they were pulling alongside me on the road. "Toughen up, Buttercup" had to be their favorite quote!

Running Across Countries is a book about Russell's favorite kind of race--the ultra stage race. Russell is definitely qualified to tell the story, having finished several runs across Germany, France, and to top it off, the 2009 edition of the Trans Europe Footrace, from Italy to Norway.

The book describes what it takes to run ultra stage races, what you can win (not a red cent), and it chronicles Russell's adventures at the stage races that he participated in--including the 2003 Tahoe Triple, and the 2008 Tahoe 72-Mile Ultra--in Russel's unique, light, and very humorous writing style.

I thoroughly enjoyed Running Across Countries; it's a real page turner and a must-buy for any ultrarunner (especially considering its attractive price). Running Across Countries provides a unique look into ultra stage racing. As an ultrarunner, I was very surprised at how much new information this book contained. It's definitely a different beast than the hundred-miler or any other "one-shot" ultra for that matter. The big difference is that you have to get up at 4 a.m. the next morning again to grind out yet another 40+miler.

64 days in a row.

Nutritional demands change, too. A normal prerace pasta dinner results in extreme fat and protein cravings. Running that long really seems to strip people down to their essence and the book explains that a few minutes of extra rest, a cup of hot Ramen noodles at an aid station, or an extra sandwich in the morning are the sort of thing that transcontinental runners long for the most. Running through pain is inevitable, even for the front runners, who amazingly cover 2800 miles at roughly a 3:30 marathon race pace.

The Trans Europe Stages

I also appreciated Russell's approach to DNFs. He writes that "quitting is harder than keeping going," and to avoid a DNF (Did Not Finish) at all cost. "Never, ever drop out unless there is a compelling medical issue like a broken leg, or a heart attack." That exactly sums up my approach to ultrarunning. I know this is a very controversial issue in the ultrarunning community. It's the "Never-DNF" approach against "Save -it-for-another-day" and nobody is right, of course.

I do think that there is a mental "DNF treshold" though, which is slightly lowered every time a race is abandoned (this is just my take on things--to each his own). Being absolutely convinced that you can and will finish is even more important in long stage races, because you are bound to go through some pretty bad lows and your mind will start playing tricks with you. Not even having the mental option to DNF can be a race-saver in those cases.

In the beginning of Russell's book, he credits another book about stage racing--Running the Trans America Footrace by Barry Lewis--as the source of inspiration for Russell's trans-continental running, and now Russell has passed it on. Running a long ultra stage race sounds like a great adventure to me--definitely on my list of things to do. Now I just need to strike it rich and retire early, because transcontinental racing is not exactly cheap and I don't think I want to wait until I am 65!


Gretchen said...

Wow, thanks for the review, Peter! I ran with Russell a bit at the Triple in '03, but I had no idea he was a guru of the stage race. I'm definitely interested in reading this one! I'll have to check out his blog, too.

Russell Secker said...

Wow! Thanks for the very kind comments, Peter - they're especially appreciated coming from a seasoned and successful stage runner like you. I really hope we get to run together at some point in the not-too-distant future. Cheers!

Ryan said...

I just clicked over to Amazon and bought the book. Looking forward to reading it next weekend.

Cadence said...

Hey , Wanted to drop you a line about a running app I developed called Cadence.

It matches music from your iPhone or Touch music library to the speed you are running at. Helps you keep the pace. Its nice to hear music all at the same beat while you run,no speeding up and slowing down.
I also have a program that works on your Mac with your itunes library and then you can use any ipod device you have.


Russell Secker said...

Hey Peter,
I'm helping Ingo Schulze with the planning of a third edition of Trans Europe Footrace, from north of Scotland to Gibraltar. Tentative dates are August 19 to October 21, 2012. Think about it!!!

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