For runners like Ed Ayres, 26.2 miles just isn’t enough. Ayres has been a long distance runner for more than half a century, competing in ultramarathons — races that can stretch beyond a hundred miles. But in his new book The Longest Race: A Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance, running is only part of Ayres’s story.

Bill’s Thoughts on The Longest Race

Ed Ayres has a great deal of experience running on tracks, through fields and forests, along roads, and up and down hills. He’s been at it for 55 years.

All that running has given Ayres lots of time to think about how his body works. He has also thought a good deal about how the world at large is working, and how it isn’t working, and how he can use long-distance running to suggest a prescription for what ails us all.

Ayres maintains that we have “increasingly marginalized and even abandoned our bodies,” and that we have lost our sense of connection with nature as well. This, he feels, accounts in part for our collective failure to do anything about global warming, though we were warned of its coming and its consequences more than 20 years ago by “more than 1,575 of the world’s leading biologists, chemists, physicists, ecologists, and earth scientists, including 101 Nobel Prize winners.” Ayers points out that the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity signed by those experts got from the press far less attention than it deserved. Had it received even “one-tenth of the coverage they’d given to the O.J. Simpson murder trial two years earlier,” he writes, “the ultimate effect might have been to save 100,000,000 lives in the years to come.”

The math may be difficult to confirm. The passion is clear and powerful.

Some of what Ed Ayres has to say may put off readers who eat meat, or readers whose feet or knees or hips make it impossible for them to run at all, let alone run 50 miles in a day. But The Longest Race is an ambitious book, and its message is powerful.