Book Review: Relentless Forward Progress

The last word on preparing for your first ultra.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

I knew I was going to like this book as soon as I read the title. Relentless Forward Progress is, as the book’s subtitle spells out, “a guide to running ultramarathons.” It is also a three-word summary of author Bryon Powell’s philosophy of running ultramarathons. Just keep moving forward, by whatever means you can, no matter how slowly. If you do, then sooner or later, you will finish! It’s physics.

The tone of the whole book is delightfully in line with its title. The knowledge presented in Relentless Forward Progress is practical, minimally technical, and right on point. Powell doesn’t waste a single word trying to impress readers with the scientific grounding for his tips. Everything you really need to know about training for ultras, for example, is contained in a single, 23-page chapter.

That chapter includes a rather brave point-counterpoint section in which champion ultrarunners Jeff Roes (pro) and Ian Torrence (con) debate the merits of incorporating speed work into ultramarathon training. While this element of contradiction may rattle the reader who wants to be convinced there is only one right way to do everything, I find Powell’s way of treating the reader as an adult capable of making her own informed decisions very refreshing. Powell demonstrates the courage of his convictions by presenting speed work-inclusive and speed work-exclusive training options later in the book.

The core training chapter is not the only chapter of Relentless Forward Progress that brings in voices besides that of the author himself, a veteran ultrarunner and the man behind irunfar.com. There are also contributions from shoe expert Adam Chase, exercise physiologist William Henderson, and others. This panoply of voices gives the book a kind of community feel, which is appropriate, because the idea that becoming an ultrarunner is more than just a matter of taking on an individual challenge, but is also a matter of joining a special community of like-minded people, is an important theme of the book.

I can think of nothing that would give me more confidence going into my first ultramarathon than having read this book. Nothing is left out. Specific training schedules, in-race nutrition, blister prevention and treatment, dealing with heat and altitude, the use of lighting for night running, mental tricks to sustain forward progress, and, yes, barefoot running—it’s all in there.

Relentless Forward Progress is not without its light moments either. In a section on recovery, Powell describes a condition he labels Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) with deadpan humor. He also tackles the important topic of heeding nature’s call in nature with just the right touch.

As the author of a few running books of my own, I’ve always felt that making such a book an enjoyable reading experience is as important as making it useful. It is a book, after all. Bryon Powell obviously feels the same way, and clearly has the skills that were necessary to create a guide to running ultramarathons that is both immensely helpful and a delight to read.

[sgi:MattFitzgerald]

Check out Matt’s latest book, Racing Weight Quick Start Guide: A 4-Week Weight-Loss Plan for Endurance Athletes.

Top Stories

Videos

Photos