Ayres is running the JFK 50 Mile days after 9/11. The world has shifted and as he races he considers how he got there, how humanity reached this point and how both can prevail. His case will make you reassess everything from training regimes to evolution. — Alison Clark
Among endurance runners, there are those who have run very long distances, and then there are those who have run very long distances for a very long time. Ed Ayres exemplifies the latter; having run in over 600 races across fifty-five years, he is arguably the most experienced American distance runner still competing today. A book no one else could have written, The Longest Race is his urgent exploration of the connection between individual endurance and a sustainable society.
The Longest Race begins at the starting line of the 2001 JFK 50 Mile—the nation’s oldest and largest ultramarathon and, like other such races, an epic test of human limits and aspiration. At age sixty, his sights set on breaking the age-division record, Ayres embarks on a course over the rocky ridge of the Appalachian Trail, along the headwind-buffeted towpath of the Potomac River, and past momentous Civil War sites such as Harpers Ferry and Antietam.
But even as Ayres focuses on concerns familiar to every endurance runner—starting strong and setting the right pace, the art of breathing, overcoming fatigue, mindfulness for the course ahead—he finds himself as preoccupied with the future of our planet as with the finish line of this 50-mile race.
A veteran journalist and environmental editor who harbors deep anxiety about our longterm prospects, Ayres helps us to understand how the skills and mindset necessary to complete an ultramarathon are also essential for grappling anew with the imperative to endure—not only as individuals, but as a society—and not just for 50 miles, but in the longest race we are all called upon to run.
Ed Ayres has been running competitively for fifty-five consecutive years, and he enjoys it as much now as he did when he joined his high school cross-country team in 1956. Ayres placed 3rd in the first New York Marathon in 1970, and he is the only runner of that race still competing today. Having participated in the early growth of American interest in roadrunning, trail-running, and marathons, he also became one of the pioneers of ultrarunning. He placed third in the US 50 Mile championship in 1976 (in 5:46:52), first in the JFK 50 Mile in 1977, and first in four US national age-division championships at 50K road, 50K trail, and fifty miles. He was the founding editor and publisher of Running Times magazine, and also worked for thirteen years as the editorial director of the Worldwatch Institute.
“Ought to be required reading even for people who have never run a step.”
—The Boston Globe
“Like the expert runner that he is, Ayres perfectly paces his tale and evokes the feeling of being on a long, rambling run with a very good friend. A gifted storyteller, he seamlessly moves between discussing running to exploring larger life issues such as why we run, our impact on the environment, and the effects of the nation’s declining physical fitness. The book is well structured, and the conversation is thought provoking, planting questions and ideas that readers will ruminate on long after the last page is turned. Ayres’ narrative skill makes this book stand out from other accounts of ultramarathons and is sure to appeal to both runners and nonrunners alike.”
“[Ed Ayres’] broad-ranging interests and accumulated wisdom will appeal to a wide readership, not just runners and environmentalists.”
“Veteran long-distance runner Ayres, a 55-year competitor in more than 600 races, brings the reader along for his grueling trek on the 2001 JFK 50 Mile, the nation’s oldest ultramarathon, explaining some critical insights that enable one to cross the finish line. . . . Using Sheehan’s axiom of “listening to your body,” the author provides runners with crucial information and key tips, ending with his must-have “Notes for an Aspiring Ultrarunner,” advising on breathing, nutrition, attitude, technique, training, footwear, and terrain. Revealing, savvy, and fast-paced, Ayres’s eloquent book on marathon running is a master class on the priceless life lessons of enduring and conquering obstacles to victory.
“To read this book is to run alongside a seasoned athlete, a deep thinker, and a great storyteller. And Ayres doesn’t disappoint: He is the best kind of running companion, generously doling out hilarious stories and hard-won insights into performance conditioning and the human condition. His lifetime of ultra-running and environmental writing drive his exploration of what keeps us running long distances—and what it might take to keep the planet from being run into the ground.”
—Nature Conservancy magazine
“Ultramarathon runner Ed Ayres is looking for a different kind of salvation—for the soul, for the planet. The races he’s been running for more than half a century have inspired athletes worldwide and reshaped our ideas about endurance and sustainability. . . Ayres’s new book, The Longest Race, is partly a chronicle of his experience in the fabled JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon, but it’s also about so much more. . . . Indeed, with all his talk about “oxygen debt” and “research depletion” it soon becomes clear that this book isn’t just about an athletic race. It’s also about the human race.”
“Subtitled A Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the case for Human Endurance, this is no ordinary running book. Like most of the other books of the genre, Ayres recounts many running tales, some inspiring, some amusing, some enlightening. He is a gifted storyteller and – befitting someone who spent most of his life as an editor – the book is full of well-written prose, something not commonly found in the running-book world. . . . For the ultrarunner, or the aspiring one, there is a brilliant appendix that provides a foundation for success in a sport with so many variables. It’s not so much a “do this, don’t do that” approach. Ayres uses his 50-plus years of experience and looks at the entire process, always simplifying and synthesizing. It’s easy to fall into the trap of making things complicated that don’t need to be – his ten notes neatly cut through all the clutter. The Appendix alone is worth the cost of the book.”
“An ultramarathon is made up of a million moments, and you’re different at the end than you were at the start—it’s the perfect metaphor, as Ed Ayres makes clear, for the race we’ve got to run now, with focus and grit, if we’re going to deal with the deepest trouble we’ve ever stumbled into as a planet.”
—Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar, Middlebury College
“In this compelling read, visionary Ed Ayres takes us on a run that may save our nanosecond lives . . . and our planet. Most runners have the potential to be environmentalists, but after this book, we should be morally obligated. Take heart!—as Ayers says, ‘It’s a long work day, but the work is good.’”
—Kathrine Switzer, first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, winner of the 1974 New York City Marathon, and author of Marathon Woman
“Ed Ayres is a legend who shares his many provocative insights and lessons in an informative yet enjoyable way. A true champion, Ed uses his gift to help us all be the best that we can be.”
—Dean Karnazes, athlete and New York Times bestselling author
“This book reminds us that our strength and vitality can never be separated from the health of the earth we run on, and whose air we breathe.”
—Bill Rodgers, four-time New York Marathon winner and four-time Boston Marathon winner
“In a culture addicted to quick hits, fast times and unrelenting over-stimulus, Ed Ayres speaks with the voice of wisdom, simplicity, and acceptance of what is. The Longest Race offers many life lessons learned through Ayres’s long-time practice of endurance running. He speaks volumes on two things we could all use: more simplicity—and a sense of pacing. We highly recommend this book to anyone ready to step off the speeding train and do a freefall into the present.”
—Danny and Katherine Dreyer, authors of Chi Running, Chi Walking and Chi Marathon