Ed Ayres has been on the run for a very long time – running long distances, that is. As founder of 'Running Times' magazine at the dawn of the modern running movement, he placed third in the inaugural New York Marathon in 1970 (and is, remarkably, the only participant of that race still competing today). "Ultras," the wilder world of extreme endurance running that covers distances from 50 kilometers to 1,000 miles, have been another passion.
His new book 'The Longest Race: A Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance' is a play-by-play of his experience at age 60 in the famed JFK 50 Mile (a race he won in 1977). But it's also a thoughtful guide to the accomplished environmental journalist's ideas about sustainability and the natural world. Ayres is gearing up for another JFK 50 in November – this time competing in the rarified 70-year-old group. Recently he shared with 'Men's Journal' his 10 tips for anyone who aspires to go the distance and become an ultramarathoner.
It's about variety.
Ayres has competed in everything from one-milers to ultras of various distances. In the sixties, he was obsessed with marathons and hoped to make the U.S. Olympic team before eventually discovering that he was better suited to be an ultrarunner. (The best marathoners, he says, are not pure endurance runners but also have great leg speed, which wasn't his strength.) Still, his experiences training for and running different types of races have led him to take a wide view of the concept of cross-training.
That may include methods such as one favored by Scandinavian athletes, called fartlek (irregular shifts of speed in order to surprise the body), as well as allowing both "associative" (highly focused) and "dissociative" (mental wandering) running. He also tells the cautionary tale of a runner who trained for a mountain ultra by running on a steep incline on a treadmill – without accounting for the course's quad-killing, mile-long descents. Whatever the method, Ayers says that by combining complementary types of training, runners gain the benefit of adaptability, durability, and resistance to injury.
Credit: Courtesy Ed Ayres