Between books, blogs, magazines, and other miscellaneous articles and essays, I do a lot of reading. Most of what I read is enjoyable, informative, and worthwhile. Every so often, though, I am fortunate enough to pick up exactly the right thing at precisely the right time and I read something that just truly resonates with me – something that I know has a meaningful and personal lesson to teach me. Such was the case with The Longest Race by Ed Ayers.
To say that I’ve been on a bit of a personal journey over the last year or two of my life is putting it somewhat mildly (though, aren’t we all in one way or another?). So much of what I’ve been pondering, exploring, and learning was reflected back at me in Ayers’ book and so many of the values that he holds and articulates in his writing echo my own. Ayers writes with a profound respect for the sport of running, humankind, animalkind, and the planet as a whole and it is a beautiful thing to read.
The story he tells is of his experience at the 2001 JFK 50-mile ultra-marathon, and this story alone makes for a wonderful read. As a runner myself (though not an ultra-runner by a long shot), I was drawn in by the tale of endurance. I certainly learned a bit about running from Ayers and will be applying my new education to my own training. But, to say that this is a book that is solely about running would be to ignore many of the larger themes in the book.
The Longest Race offers us a glimpse into Ayers’ mind and it is a brilliant place to explore. His grasp of history, science, and the human condition is evident as he reflects on the past, as it is so boldly laid out before him on the JFK course, as well as on the future, as he considers deeply the connections between people, animals, the environment, and the sustainability of all three. Ayers also touches here and there on topics such as patience, anxiety, nutrition, and relationships both within the running community and outside of it.
This is an extraordinary tale that I will be reading again. There were several moments in the book where I was struck by a certain importance of what I was reading to my own current place in life. I have more to learn from Ayers’ story and I would be willing to make a bet that others do too.