Ed Ayres writes about two “longest races” here: the JFK 50-Mile Endurance Run that forms the backbone of his narrative, and his interwoven musings about the future of the human race. This blending of themes is especially fitting — and poignant — here, as the edition of the JFK race that he describes running took place in 2001, just nine weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
At the time, Ayres was 60, and after founding Running Times magazine, he became a devoted environmentalist editor. So, he’s putting both his feet and his heart into what he writes.
Ayres runs the JFK ultramarathon over the ridge of the Appalachian Trail, along the Potomac River towpath, and past the momentous Civil War battlefields of Harpers Ferry and Antietam. As he paces, he thinks on environmental, terrorism, and survival issues, his thoughts inspired by both the times and the sites he’s running by.
Thankfully, this isn’t a heavy Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance tome of metaphysical philosophy bound up in a pair of Adidas. Instead, Ayres’s prose is thoughtful and inspiring — and downright thrilling, especially when detailing the race itself. He applies principles of environmental sustainability to be able to keep pace with ultrarunners two or three decades his junior, offering strategies and hope both for humanity and master-age runners.