Running Sustainably

Ed Ayres, author of The Longest Race, draws a metaphorical comparison between running endurance and societal sustainability. He writes, 
"We are by nature the most enduring, patient, and envisioning of all species. But our culture has seduced us away from that nature. There are communities that have instinctively resisted that seduction — “slow food,” hiking, trout fishing, meditation, violin-playing, gardening, reading, bird-watching, trail running. But to have hope of a truly enduring future, our whole global enterprise will need to slow down — in its addictive consumption and grasping for quick rewards — and begin to find a rhythm for the long run".
This resonates with me. I have always thought of running as a kind of exemplar for how I live my life (setting goals; being determined and working hard; pushing through difficulty; finding joy in simple things), but I never considered extending the metaphor this far. In the book - which I have yet to read, but will be on my bookshelf once it is released next week - Ayres is describing an ultra-marathon trail race and linking the preparation for and execution of the run to this bigger picture. It's an interesting linkage, and it makes me reflect on the notion that the way you choose to run can be representative of your wider beliefs about sustainable living. Take for instance the runner who buys all of the latest, expensive gear - often made in developing countries - and flies around the world to exotic destinations to race. Is this sustainable? I don't subscribe to the consumerism of stocking up on gear (except for new shoes every year, I have been running in the same clothes for the last 10 years, and I run with the same Timex watch that I got as a Christmas present when I was 20). I have, however, traveled to marathons just to be part of the atmosphere and history of running some of the majors like Chicago and Boston. In recent years, I have been limiting myself to local races, but could I resist the allure of running an ultra-marathon in Iceland one day, for example? Not likely, as it is somewhere I have always wanted to go and a challenge I would love to undertake.

I think it boils down to this: in running, as in other aspects of our lives, we do the best we can and we do everything with awareness. Part of the problem with the "addictive consumption" that Ayres refers to is that people so often live their lives in ignorant bliss of the environmental and social consequences of their actions. Once you become mindful of the impact of your choices, you are more likely to make the right ones most of the time. In other words, when I finally get to Iceland, I'll offset the carbon emissions of my flight there in some other way - and in that race I will find a rhythm for the long run in a unique and inspiring landscape.                    

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