Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ultrarunning in Middle Earth

I have been listening to The Lord of the Rings while driving to and from work.  These are such terrific stories!  If you've never read them, do.  If you've never seen the movies, you're missing out.  I was struck by Tolkien's description of three friends' pursuit of their companions' captors, and how apropos it is for the trail runner.

The Two Towers opens with Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli discovering that Merry and Pippin have been taken by the orcs.  The three take off on foot, in hot pursuit.  Now I realize that for most of the history of earth and middle earth, the main means of transportation was by foot, but as an ultrarunner in an age where most transportation is motorized, I was impressed by their speed and by the descriptions of their running.  Legolas takes the lead: "Like a deer he sprang away.  Through the trees he sped.  On and on he led them, tireless and swift."  That's the kind of pacer I would like on an ultramarathon!  "All night the three companions scrambled in this bony land, climbing to the crest of the first and tallest ridge, and down again into the darkness of a deep winding valley on the other side."  I've never run the Western States 100, but this sounds like a description of part of the course!  "As if fresh from a night's rest they sprang from stone to stone."  The smell of the lush, green valley, Legolas declares, "is better than much sleep.  Let us run!"

By the third day of their pursuit, "they hardly paused, now striding, now running, as if no weariness could quench the fire that burned them."  Gimli tired, but "My legs must forget the miles."   Legolas "still stepped as lightly as ever, his feet hardly seeming to press the grass, leaving no footprints as he passed."  When they finally meet up with the Riders of Rohan, they are impressed with the trio's speed: "The deed of the three friends should be sung in many a hall.  Forty leagues and five you  have measured ere the fourth day is ended!  Hardy is the race of Elendil!"  I think a league is about three miles, so that would be 135 miles, the length of Badwater, only with no support crew, carrying packs and weapons, on trails, and tracking Orcs.  Quite an ultramarathon!

Aragorn and Legolas scope out the course.

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