The Longest Race by Ed Ayres Book Review

I was lucky enough to be asked to read this book for review.  It is not a book that I would normally read as I understood it first to be just a book about running when I received it (and I am definitely not a runner).  Once I got started into it, I realised that Ed Ayres had so much more to tell.

Ed Ayres at sixty ran the 2001 JFK 20 Mile, America's oldest and largest ultramarathon.  Not only did he start the ultramarathon, but he also completed it.  He is not new to running - he has been running for a very long period of time.  He discovered running as a teen when the world was changing after World War II and his parents resisted the trend of buying a TV meaning he spent more time outdoors playing.

The Longest Race takes us, the reader, along with him on this gruelling race.  As we come along with him in the race in the comfort of in the pages of the book, we are also taken on a journey of the exploration between human endurance and a sustainable society.  It is through this exploration of a sustainable society that he makes us think about how we are living now and what the impact will be on the future.  This is a deeply philosophical book that, whilst requiring patience to read, is worth the work.  Ed uses his knowledge as an experienced journalist and environmental editor to pose poignant questions and provide us with very useful information.

There are some great facts laced through the story like how boys who increased their cardiovascular fitness from ages fifteen to eighteen - by participating in cross-country running or skiing - scored significantly higher on tests of intelligence than those who didn't.  He tries to teach the reader about patience, one key ingredient for him as he makes his way through the ultramarathon. His observations throughout the story are on the changing world and what we hold up as valuable and memorable (ie brand names as opposed to the names of birds and plants).  Many of his reflections are on how we have come from a time when we had to work hard for what we needed to now when we are surrounded by so much choice.

I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in a sustainable future.  Any (crazy) marathon runners out there may also enjoy this for the running tips that he laces throughout the book and the 'Notes for an Aspiring Ultramarathon Runner' that he has added at the end.

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