An intriguing and entertaining exploration into the things that runners can learn from animals.
Heinrich is best known for his studies of ravens in the Maine woods (The Mind of a Raven, 1999, etc.), but he is a crackerjack ultramarathoner as well as a deservedly award-winning nature writer. Here he taps into his research on the metabolism of animals, from bumblebees to camels, to glean some hints on how to improve his performance in an upcoming 100-kilometer race. First, he brings us back to his youth, where running was one of those pure and simple things that he could readily understand: the primal, unadorned joy of the movement. Like the monarch butterfly and the goose (for whom movement is “in their makeup. It is their way of coping”), running came naturally to Heinrich. As he traces his path to ultramarathoning, he brings readers up to speed with such running arcana as VO2 max, muscle fiber types, oxygen transport, and anaerobic energy burns. Then he turns his attention to specific animals and how they contend with economizing their energy: the power outputs of antelope, the prodigious aerobic pacing of frogs, why a camel protects itself from the sun, the smooth and efficient stride of the cockroach. He takes what he can from these and many more examples as he becomes “increasingly aware of my own breathing, heart rate, sweating, energy stores, stride, and running pace.” Heinrich delves into evolution to fashion his own training regime for the 100K race, which he relates in detail at the close of his account. And believe it, you’ll be pulling for him all the way.
Flooding off these pages is a man who loves his life, brimming with curiosity and deeply respectful of the creatures and environment around him. (Line drawings by the author)