Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Longest Race, by Ed Ayres

One of the great joys of running, especially an all-day event like an ultramarathon, is falling into step with someone and spending the time running together to learn about each other, hear about their racing experiences, and share a bit of life together.  I have found that you can learn more about someone and forge deeper friendships by running on a trial for a couple of hours than you can by sitting next to someone at work every day for a year.

Ayres, running strong.
Ed Ayers has run a few races (quite a few, actually, more than half a century's worth), and reading his new book, The Longest Race: A Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance, must be a bit like the experience of sharing the trail with him for a few hours.  The framework of the book is a race report of his 2001 JFK 50 Mile endurance run, at which he set the course record for his age group.  He offers details of the course, the race itself, and his experiences that day, but The Longest Race is much more than a race report.

Woven among the mile markers and aid stations of the race are Ayres's reflections on running, the environment, and the human condition.  Ayers has been running longer than most of us have been alive.  He's run some of the great races, road marathons, trail runs, and ultras, and run with some of the great runners.  He was a co-founder of Running Times magazine, shaping opinions and publishing pioneering articles at the dawning of the modern running movement.  Here you'll find some of his distilled wisdom about running, born not of trendiness or the latest thing, but from his accumulated knowledge and experience.  He's also worked in the environmentalist movement, and offers his insights on the future of life on earth.  "Maybe the whole premise of modern society--build a great industrial civilization so that people can live better lives--was backward.  Maybe the only way it could work was by building great fitness as individual people, so we can have a more livable civilization."

To Ayres, running is an allegory for life, and life is an allegory for running.  I like his broader application of the running adage, "Listen to your body."  Ayres writes, "If you pay close attention to what your internal signals are telling you, they heighten your chances of actually doing what you dream of doing."  We learn more about ourselves when we run, and by paying attention to what we learn, especially what we learn training for and running in an ultramarathon, we can learn more about civilization and its sustainability.  Pick up this thoughtful, reflective book and you will be inspired to run and rewarded with insights on life.

You can also keep up with Ayres at his blog, http://enduranceandsustainability.blogspot.com/, from which the above picture was shamelessly swiped.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy.

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