My experience of “Mental skills for ultra runners”: A tail of a book review and unrequited therapy

My favourite movie is Almost Famous, the based on a true story account of a kid and wannabe journo who became besties with his favourite band and followed them on the road, leading to his own front page story on the cover of The Rolling Stone.

As a younger person, it seemed fitting that I go to journalism school and write music reviews for my university newspaper.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt prouder than the day my review of a Martha Wainwright album appeared in the UTS Love Issue in 2008.

I was on my way….to absolutely no where!

Over 10 years later and it’s safe to say I was never on the cover of the Rolling Stone but I love reviews. I still read the reviews in Rolling Stone or Spin for music, The Hollywood Reporter and TV fanatic for TV and everyone on YouTube for running watches, shoes, packs and gear (shoutout DC rainmaker!)

So when I picked up Addie Bracy’s book “Mental skills for Ultra Running” and actually sat down and read it, I knew there had to be a review.

“If you want to do something hard, you have to get used to doing hard things”

Addie Bracy

When I started reading this book, I expected an easy, flat training run. Nothing to arduous, nothing too technical, a longer and more focused edition of a “top 10 ways to….” article in a running magazine. Something I could knock over in a few days, with some key takeaways and little to no soreness or fatigue.

Like most things in ultramarathon training and racing, I was wrong.

I didn’t make it through the first 10 pages before the highlighter and post it notes came out and it took me over two weeks to struggle through the first few chapters.

Those early chapters were a grind, a relentless climb with reoccurring false tops that forced me to look inward when I wasn’t ready or warmed up.

Each chapter is full of exercises and trainings to bring the knowledge back to your own experience and case studies of elite athletes like Clare Gallagher and Jim Walmsley to remind you that you aren’t alone in the struggle.

But if I can bring it back to me for just a quick second, it wouldn’t be honest to hide the catastrophic existential crisis that was had over the very first few exercises. I was doggedly persistent, as all good ultra runners are, and kept going back through it, over it and over it again trying to work out why I was having such a hard time with “identifying my why” and frankly, even at the end of this book, I’m still not sure I can articulate it well enough to have it stitched on an inspirational pillow or written in red lip stick on my bathroom mirror. That can be a job for the re-read.

Jokes and breakdowns aside, once I got through those first few chapters, it was like that feeling of getting over the last climb in a long race and knowing it’s all smooth sailing to the finish.

Addie Bracy delicately frames the mental skills piece of ultra running like an intricate web of why’s, what’s and how’s. It seems so complicated and yet so simple and obvious at the same time. I took comfort in the recipe and formula that seemed easy to follow on the page and able to be applied to my own life and running yet equally daunted and confronted with the pending doom of my own ultimate self reflection.

Some takeaways are generic in nature and capable to being applied to your own historical meltdowns, pity parties and DNF’s to hopefully stop them from happening again or at least less frequently or potently. Others are more specific and are probably best applied on a race by race basis. I put tabs on all the exercises I would like to re-visit in the lead up to the my next big race.

This book is definably not a read once, set and forget type of book, it should be a bible for all runners looking to improve their performance and overall running experience at any ultramarathon distance. I don’t know about you, but anything to avoid sitting on a rock in the middle of bum f*ck no where contemplating my life decisions in the middle of a “race” sounds good to me.

I think if I had to sum up this book with just one quote it would be “one of the most important psychological skills is self awareness”. Addie Bracy’s book is an essential piece of mandatory gear full of tips, skills and practices that if you do them right hopefully you’ll never need again on race day but you’ll always carry with you, just in case you do!

To be the most prepared means being confident in your ability to proactively and productivity respond to anything the trail throws at you.

Addie Bracy

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