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.
Rethink food and fitness – and the meaning of patience.
Ayres identifies the problem of refueling as the biggest difference between marathons and ultras, and the hardest thing he had to figure out in his transition to longer lengths. Glycogen stored in your muscles will provide adequate energy to go 18 to 20 miles, so well-trained runners can almost cover a marathon distance without much thought to refueling. But ultrarunners necessarily need to carry some sort of fuel along for the ride.
In 'The Longest Race,' Ayres tells a story of reaching exhaustion at the 70-mile point of the Angeles Crest 100 Mile and spending half an hour at the aid station at the foot of a steep mountain trying to figure out what he could eat without throwing up (his answer: a boiled potato). Crucially, Ayers points out that food is not a race-day or night-before proposition but a months-long – ideally years-long – affair.
Ayres has been on a Paleo-type, vegetarian diet since 1954, way before it even had a name (for reasons of environmentalism and personal preference, he has since cut out Paleo's heavy reliance on meat). "A lot of people might consider me some kind of nutritional fanatic. But how I look at it, the way I eat is in line with the way humans ate before the Industrial Revolution." For him, that means no white flour, refined sugar, or processed foods. Sometimes, he says, we have to "override our evolution" if we want to survive as a civilization.
Credit: Courtesy Ed Ayres