‘The Longest Race’ Offers Life Lessons

November 23, 2012

Ed Ayres, author of the audio book “The Longest Race: A Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance”, is a runner, as you may have guessed. And this audio book selection is ostensibly a story about the record he set in the JFK 50-mile ultramarathon in the 60+ age group back in 2001. It starts with his training, covers the actual race, and goes straight through to his record-breaking time as he crosses the finish line. And while Ayres certainly puts in a lot of detail about the trials and tribulations of running such a lengthy race (and at his age, no less), the story of his undertaking serves more as a framework for a different story that he wants to tell, one in which his 50-year history as a runner has helped him to understand a few fundamentals about life and also the way we live it as a species.

In this offering Ayres blends his two lifelong pursuits, running and sustainability, into one seamless story of how perseverance on the trail can translate to the longevity of the human race. It may sound like a stretch, but Ayres artfully weaves a narrative that takes you not only through the highlights of his historical ultramarathon, but also through the history of mankind. We started as a species that had to rely on physical fitness for survival. At our very beginnings we had to hunt, gather, and migrate in order to live. Since early man lacked the many modern conveniences we enjoy today, he built up physical endurance as a necessity and had to exercise patience and foresight in order to find the food and shelter needed to make it from one day to the next.

Ayres is not suggesting that we return to a primitive way of living, but we certainly need to make some changes if we want to continue living on this planet in the long-term. And he posits that physical fitness like running can help us to see a path to sustainable living more clearly. These days too many people are content to let fitness fall by the wayside. We work long hours and have too many demands on our time. This situation taxes us not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. With a clarity of mind born of countless hours spent on the trail, reveling in the beauty of nature, Ayres posits that we could all develop the skills and mindset required to live happier, healthier, and more sustainable lives.

It’s easy to write this off as mere rhetoric, especially if you don’t happen to be inclined towards physical fitness to begin with. But anyone who has felt the exhilaration of running full-speed or had the relief of a cool breeze on their sweat-drenched face knows what it means to enjoy a good jog. And the mood-boosting and head-clearing benefits of exercise are nothing to sniff at, either. Anyone who listens to this audio book is bound to list it amongst theĀ top sports novelsĀ in their collection. And if, by the end, you are ready to try jogging or consider finding sustainable alternatives to your current lifestyle, then you simply haven’t been listening close enough.

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