Friday, September 28, 2012

The Longest Race Book Review

“If you fall, then you crawl.”

The Longest Race Book Cover

The Longest Race : A Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance by Ed Ayres (The Experiment, distributed by Workman) will go on-sale October 9th. I was happy enough to get an advance copy and read it before, during, and after The North Face Endurance Challenge, really ideal timing.

The bones of the book, as it were, is a single running of the JFK 50Mile Ultramarathon in 2001, but Ed fleshes this out with a lifetime of experiences. Not just running, but musings on nature, examples of research, and tales of family.

Ed proposes some novel ideas, all through the lens of sustainability and his many years of long-distance running. Having competed in over 600 long-distance races, including finishing third in the inaugural New York City Marathon, as well as starting the magazine Running Times, he has the authority and knowledge to make these comparisons work.

Probably the most interesting line of thought, or the one that resonated the most with me, is the evolution of man the prey to hunter or hunter-and-gatherer, to farmer, to urban dweller. He posits that, because we no longer hunt, we have fallen prey to some serious mental confusion, since we are no longer honoring that evolution by distancing ourselves from our food source. Further inflaming this discussion, he posits that, by no longer hunting, some people have become warlike to sublimate that hunting need in the killing of others. Whew. A parallel thread looks at how the hunter-gatherers evolved alongside each other, with some members of the tribe being those that could run down the animals, others to make the kill, with the remaining in support roles of carrying the animal back to the tribe, and so forth. Really fascinating.

Many other things I found myself in agreement with, such as his take on competition: “But for a sixty-year-old man balancing the emotional pulls of family, country, and world, as well as the management of his own body and soul, ambivalence goes with the territory.” I’m not a sixty-year-old man, but even as a forty-six-year-old, I feel that same ambivalence—it’s hard for me to get overly excited about a running race compared to so many other important things in my life.

We're both optimistic about the future: “Worldwide, a hundred million long-distance runners, and who knows how many other allied communities of mindful people, are steadily, quietly moving forward toward more enduring, less consuming and corrupting, lifestyles—both as highly independent, self-directed individuals and as consciously interdependent members of their communities, ecosystems, and world.” I would definitely count myself as one of those allied with this community.

The Longest Race concludes with “Notes for an Aspiring Ultrarunner,” with Ed’s suggestions and advice on gear, nutrition, mindset, training regimens, technique, and more. 10 points are made for those looking to ultramarathons as a possible goal, with Ed’s admonition that:
“Ultrarunning is not separate from the rest of life. It will affect your overall vitality, endurance, and patience, and may also affect your relationships and worldview.”
Powerful stuff. This book should be on everybody’s list, whether or not you are planning on running long-distances. Much like ultrarunning, this book may affect your worldview.

About the Author: Author Ed Ayres  has been running competitively for 55 consecutive years, and he loves it as much now as he did when he joined his high school cross-country team in 1956. He was the founding editor and publisher of Running Times magazine, and he worked for 13 years as the editorial director of Worldwatch, published by the Worldwatch Institute.

(Disclaimer: I was sent this product for free to review on my blog - via The Experiment Publishing. I did not pay for the item, receive payment for this review, or agree to give it a positive review. Aside from information gleaned from the websites, the opinions are my own.)

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  1. This sounds like a good book! Pretty deep though. I have not heard that thought process between not being hunter/gatherers anymore to turning in to killers. Very interesting!

    1. Yeah, sounds pretty deep. I think if people ran more ultras, we all might be too tired to wage war!


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