09 January 2014

book review - the longest race (and a giveaway)

i'm not a reader.

some people are voracious when it comes to books - my daughter is one of those people.  on the other end of the spectrum are people like me, who find reading often painful and therefore struggle to get through even the slimmest of books over the course of numerous months.

so to offer up a book review is a win for me.  and the fact that i persevered to the end of a given book is a win for its author.

by way of a review, i don't want to give away too much but rather offer some impressions and general comments/criticisms/recommendations that might help a fellow non-reader decide whether or not a given work is worth putting the effort into trying to finish.  so here goes nothing!


The Longest Race is written by ed ayres, the founder of running times magazine (which i was first introduced to as the 'running magazine for competitive runners').  structured around his reflections on running the JFK 50 Mile in 2001 (hot on the heels of the 9/11 attacks), these pages are chock full of insights into the sights, sounds and emotions of trail ultrarunning.  as such, it does serve to provide a great deal of insight as to what it takes to successfully hold it together and complete an endurance event of this nature (including the importance of adenosine triphosphate - ATP - and why it makes a boiled potato desirable).  the book even includes an addendum of "Notes for the Aspiring Ultrarunner", which i found both clear and useful.

but to describe it merely as a running book would be to undermine its intended and effective purpose.  i believe that ed ayres wrote this in a fashion that is intended to be allegorical, not unlike what The Pilgrim's Progress is to the Christian faith tradition.  ayres uses the motif of ultrarunning to highlight issues of long-term sustainability and health on a more macro level - addressing current threats to the environment and socio-economic trends that affect the global human community.  woven in are recollections from his work with the Worldwatch Institute (which in name has a 'big brother' feeling about it) where ayres spent a good deal of time analyzing data and trends in energy, climate, culture and economy.  as such, this book shares lessons that have impact far beyond runners and running, but illustrates how a personal commitment to a healthy lifestyle (notably advocated by the JFK 50 Miler's namesake) is a critical piece to instigating change.

it's hard at times to not compare The Longest Race to christopher mcdougall's Born To Run as there are some similar topics that are addressed in the pages of both books.  doing so robs ayres' work of some of its uniqueness and influence; but at the same time it identifies the stylistic advantage that BTR has over TLR.  mcdougall writes from a storyteller's perspective, whereas it feels at every turn that ayres is setting the reader up for a 'moral of the story' point.  while far from unfair or tiresome, it does verge on the predictable and creates a bit of a pan-left/pan-right movement from recounting the JFK 50-mile adventure to meta-narrative principle extrapolation and back again.

after all's said and done this is still a book well worth the read.  i think that ayres' own statement near the conclusion sums up nicely the lasting value of The Longest Race:
"Every interdisciplinary field moves us a stride closer to replacing our reductionist science and myopic perception with more integrated , whole-picture views." 
ed ayres takes a text on the sub-culture of ultramarathon racing and reveals lessons learned and strategies for success on a much grander scale.  i give this book three-and-a-half footprints out of five.


*** BONUS ***

how about a giveaway?

i've got one (1) Suunto M5 multi-sport exercise watch up for grabs!  


sweet, eh?  this contest is open to canadian and US residents only, so give it a whirl!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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22 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. thanks for the comment dave! hopefully if you win it, it will be what you're looking for!

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  2. Hello from a fellow Canadian, I found your blog through the Miles to Blog group ... you're not too far from me. I love reading new books and have added this one to my ever growing list.

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    1. thanks anita! it's definitely worth a read ... especially on polar vortex kind of days!

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  3. I am hoping to accomplish my first marathon with my best friend. she is a runner, I am not quite there yet!

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    1. thanks for commenting summer! that's a great goal - here's hoping that you make it happen!

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  4. The Suunto watch will help me keep track of my mileage (2014 goal = 2,500k) and achieve PB's in both the 1/2 marathon and marathon distance.

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    1. thanks yuri! that's a lot of distance to cover this year - wishing you all the best in achieving new PBs!

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  5. It will help me reach my weight goal through my evening walking and running.

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    1. awesome russell! stick with it and you'll have already reached new heights!

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  6. I started my weight loss journey about 2 years ago, dropping just over 40 pounds by running and working hard. I'd love this to help me step up my game, and drop those last nagging 15 pounds I can't seem to get rid of!

    coriwestphal at msn dot com

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    1. awesome work cori! rooting for you to take down those final 15!

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  7. I've lost over 100 pounds in the last 2 years. Reached my goal weight and lost a little steam. My goal is to get back on track and get lose the pesky holiday pounds. I plan to start running with my son who is participates in biathlon. The watch would be great for tracking time and calories burned while I do :)

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    1. that's fantastic brenda! way to go - i'm inspired by your dedication. and it would be great to get going on running with a member of your family!

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  8. I have gotten sedentary since my retirement and i have made a commitment to get healthier and work out more. this would be a great addition to my workout plan.

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    1. kudos to you mary! i hope that you find great success with your workout plan. you've got this!

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  9. this would be a great addition to my new years resolution of staying active and living a healthier lifestyle

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    1. an excellent resolution - rooting for you lori!

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  10. It would be perfect to count the calories and lose weighT HOPEFULLY

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    1. hey julie - good for you! keep up the hope and combine it with determination!

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  11. I went to the Suunto website and read a bit about the watch. I need to set up a walking program for myself, and eventually progress into heavier training once I am active again. This watch sounds like a great tool to help me reach my goals and track my performance.

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    1. one foot in front of the other, that's all it takes! good for you colleen - i think that you're going to surprise yourself!

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