First, if you live in Southern Maine, I invite you to come to the Portland Public Library this Friday, March 6, at 12pm to hear me speak about Coffee Smuggler as part of their Local Author Series.
With that plug out of the way, I am excited to tell you a little bit about the research I've been diving into. I haven't read like this in years. Err, decades. I'm averaging a book every five days.
I realize that this is normal for many of you and perhaps even slow for the real speed readers out there, but for most of my adult life, I've read a book about every 3-5 weeks. Good ones go quicker, boring ones languish or get put aside. Pretty soon after I first learned to read (I was a late bloomer in those embarrassing pull-out classes until 3rd grade), I went from 0 to 60 and spent the next 5 or so years reading a book per week for pleasure. I loved losing myself in the story and couldn't wait to pick a book up and a glass of raspberry iced tea when I got home from school.
That feeling is back thanks to my ultra-marathon book buying binge. First, I raced through Running on Empty by Marshall Ullrich. This was necessary because I had scheduled an interview with this legendary ultra-runner and wanted to be able to ask questions that his book left unanswered. Marshall is an amazing man and the story of his 3,000 mile run across America provides valuable insight into the life of Mensen Ernst (the subject of my next book). Just before Marshall, I interviewed Frank Giannino, who holds the record for running across the US- a blistering 66 miles per day from San Francisco to New York set in 1980.
Next, Eat and Run by Scott Jurek took me deeper inside the sport of competitive ultra running and gave me some fascinating glimpses into the mindset that a runner like Ernst must have. Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel by Jason Robillard provided a comical, yet practical guide on the physical realities of ultra-marathons, orienteering, and trail running. Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn amazed me with the similarities between Kenyen runners and the life of Mensen Ernst. Now, I've launched back into the historic context of Mensen Ernst with Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Sport by Matthew Algeo and also Why We Run: A Natural History by biologist and ultra-marathon record holder Bernd Heinrich.
I finished feverishly scanning Loperkongen Mensen Ernst, one of two books ever written about Ernst. This copy was dear to me because it was the only library copy in the US, diligently lent to me from the Library of Congress and due for return all too soon. At first, I tried to read the choppy Norwegian-to-English translation that my phone was conjuring, but I soon abandoned that if I was ever to get through the entire book during my lunch breaks in the Bowdoin Library. Tantalizing clues about the real Mensen Ernst have been flying by me and I'm eager to dive into this translation and make sense of it.
There's so much I want to tell you about. There are so many facts and phrases that can be woven together to support and provide context for Ernst's life. Perhaps the most startling theory I've begun stitching together is that virtually without exception, all the greatest ultra-distance runners experienced hard working childhoods and were raised in relative poverty in rural areas: Mensen Ernst, Marshall Ullrich, Yiannis Kourus, Scott Jurek, Edward Payson Weston, Dennis Oleary, the Bunioneers, and hundreds of Kenyan runners who dominate distance running today. This rural upbringing and poverty meant a lot of physical work and foot travel as a child. These runners also dedicated many years and sometimes decades of their lives to running before achieving their best results. Yet everyone seems to agree: running and especially ultra-running is a mental sport, so researching the psychology behind endurance running will be an important piece of Ernst's biography.
More books are on the way, including a biography of a man who no doubt inspired Mensen Ernst, Captain Barclay who ran 1 mile every hour for 1000 hours in 1809. Most critically of all, a Norwegian librarian is going to scan and send me the origin text for much of Ernst's story: his 1842 German biography written while he was still alive. I'm off to the races.