I started this book today waiting for the Metro to take me home from my just-completed 13 mile point-to-point run from my apartment to the ocean. It came highly recommended by a client who also happens to be a triathlete.
I’m about halfway through it so far and I’m impressed — it’s linear insomuch that it reconstructs the chronology of particular chance encounters but also spins off into sub-chapters explaining the characteristics that each of the ultrarunners bring to the game. I’ve excerpted a few of my favorite passages below.
(Update: I’ve finished the book and it was great! I loved the storytelling aspect as the writer follows many different runners on their journey. The only part I didn’t like was that there was one small portion where the author was hypocritical: he makes a mention of an unsaid runners code of ethics, but then manages to slam another professional runner a few pages later. I wonder why the editor let that one slide by!)
Pick it up! My rating: 8/10
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“Lesson two….think easy, light, smooth, and fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooth. You don’t have to worry about the last one — you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”
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Was Zatopek a great man who happen to run, or a great man because he ran? Vigil couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but his gut kept telling him that there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love running. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you got, being patient and forgiving and undemanding. Sex and speed — haven’t they been symbiotic for most of our existence, as intertwined as the strands of DNA? We wouldn’t be alive without love; we wouldn’t have survived without running; maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that getting better at one could make you better at the other.”
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That fall, a photo appeared in UltraRunning Magazine. It shows Jenn finishing a 30-mile race somewhere in the backwoods of Virginia. There’s nothing amazing about her performance (third place), or her getup (basic black shorts, basic black sports bra), or even the camera work (dimly let, crudely cropped). Jenn isn’t battling a rival to the bitter end, or striding across a mountaintop with the steel-jawed majesty of a Nike model, or gasping toward glory with a grimace of heartbreaking determination. All she’s doing is…running. Running, and smiling. But that smile is strangely stirring. You can tell she’s having an absolute blast, as if there’s nothing on earth she’d rather be doing and nowhere on earth she’d rather be doing it than here, on this lost trail in the middle of the Appalachian wilderness. Even though she’s just run four miles further than a marathon, she looks light-footed and carefree, her eyes twinkling, her ponytail swinging around her head like a shirt in the fist of a triumphant Brazilian soccer player. Her naked delight is unmistakable; it forces a smile to her lips that’s so honest and unguarded, you feel she’s lost in the grip of artistic inspiration.
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Ann liked to tell her friends that running huge miles in the mountains was “very romantic.” But yeah, Ann insisted, running was romantic; and no, of course her friends didn’t get it because they’d never broken through. For them, running was a miserable two miles motivated solely by size 6 jeans: get on the scale, get depressed, get your headphones on, and get it over with. But you can’t muscle through a five-hour run that way; you have to relax into it, like easing your body into a hot bath, until it no longer resists the shock and begins to enjoy it.
Relax enough, and your body becomes so familiar with the cradle-rocking rhythm that you almost forget that you’re moving. And once you break through that soft, half-levitating flow, that’s when the moonlight and champagne show up.
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