Podcast Review: Science of Ultra Podcast, with Shawn Bearden, PhD.

Some consider ultramarathon runners to be crazy, but there’s a group of people even crazier…ultramarathoners who “nerd out” on the science of ultrarunning. I am a proud member of this humble sliver of the population and have enjoyed the Science of Ultra Podcast (SOUP) by Shawn Bearden, PhD. for nearly three years. His weekly podcast explores a wide range of topics on ultrarunning and interviews the top scholars, scientists, and athletes in the ultrarunning community. The ultrarunning community is not new, but in the last 5-10 years it has grown tremendously in popularity, compared to what it was in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Although not “mainstream” in terms of popular running race distances, there are many more ultra races to choose from year-round compared to a decade ago. More ultrarunners are being featured in the outdoor media spotlight as well, names like Karl Meltzer, Scott Jurek, Dean Karnazes, Jim Walmsley, Kaci Lickteig, and Kilian Jornet, etc. are becoming living legends in the community. One aspect of ultrarunning that has seemingly lagged behind, is the body of scientific knowledge and research on the subject; at least the ability for the average recreational runner to access these valuable insights and research findings. There are a handful of researchers, scientists, and academics who have studied the topic for many years, but their work often does not make it to the eyes and ears of the everyday runner. That is, until Dr. Shawn Bearden started the SOUP.

Shawn’s podcast is world class in a number of ways. Below I have bulletized the best of the SOUP to showcase this invaluable resource on ultrarunning.

  • The Intro. No frills, kept standard for all 70 episodes (thus far). Fantastic announcer voice: “This is Science of Ultra, the knowledge resource for achieving your ultra-endurance best…train and perform smarter.”
  • Audio Quality. Superb audio quality throughout the episodes. This is one thing I appreciate after listening to several other podcasts with good content, but poor quality. Not sure if Shawn has an audio technician, but the clarity, volume, and minimal interference are gratifying.
  • No ads! The SOUP is fully supported by Shawn’s own dollars as well as contributions and donations from listeners. He does make a brief, honest, and heartfelt plea for monetary support at the end of the episodes, but it is warranted and listeners undoubtedly recognize and appreciate the incredible value they are getting for free.
  • The Guests. Shawn brings an impressive array of guests to the show. The top professionals from the medical, physiology, sports medicine, biology, and coaching communities, as well as the very best elite ultrarunners, all spend approximately an hour with Shawn digging into the details of running ultra-distance. The caliber of guests on this podcast lend immediate and unquestionable credibility to the content discussed.
  • The Questions. As his guests often comment, “Shawn, that is a great question”, he has a way of asking the right questions to get the most important insights and information from his guests. He is adept at steering the conversation in the proper direction to keep listeners interested, and he always remembers to revisit interesting and unplanned topics that came up by happenstance. He always ends the interview by asking his guest to leave the listeners with some “nuggets” of knowledge, these are actionable and helpful tidbits that runners can put into their training and daily life.
  • Based on Science. It better be, it’s in the name right? Throughout the episodes, Shawn drills down to bring out relevant empirical findings and is sure to highlight areas for further research. I appreciate, however, that he is not so laser-focused on the science that he downplays or disregards the intangible aspects of ultrarunning, such as the impact of personal preference, habit, or comfort, on running performance. This is not the head in the clouds type PhD here folks, Shawn is a down-to-earth guy who happens to be super smart.
  • Journey to 100. This is Shawn’s sister podcast to the SOUP, and it makes the perfect complement. In Journey to 100, Shawn and his coach, John Fitzgerald of Carmichael Training Systems (CTS), talk about Shawn’s training and preparation to run his first 100 mile race. This gives the listeners a candid, insider’s perspective on the relationship between runner and coach as they work toward completing Shawn’s first 100 mile race.

SOUP

I never imagined I would enjoy listening to a bunch of academics talk about the science of ultramarathon running, but it has given me an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding of our sport. I credit Shawn and his podcast with me furthering my own formal and informal education in the sport of running, as well as me making necessary tweaks to my own personal run training regime. I was even lucky enough to be paired with Coach John Fitzgerald for one month of free coaching from CTS at one point, something that Shawn arranged for listeners of the Journey to 100 podcast! Working with a high level coach like John was a highly valuable and worthwhile experience.

My highest recommendation for the Science of Ultra Podcast. Even if you are not into ultrarunning, much of the content discussed applies to distance running in general, and all of it is interesting if you appreciate the science behind human athletic performance. It would take me hours to explain all of the ways the SOUP has helped my own training. As a complement to the podcast, Shawn sends out a digest to his subscribers, called the Ultra Clan Digest, with his permission, I compiled all fifty of his wrap-up summaries into one pdf, access it here.

To learn more about Shawn or his Science of Ultra podcast, visit him online at the links below:

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