Friday, January 21, 2011

Jack London...and Ultrarunning

May as well make it two posts in a row from the Writer's Almanac.  Jack London was featured last week on his 12 Jan birthday, in 1876.  Most people know of him from his novels about the north, such as Call of the Wild.

London had a school of hard knocks childhood, then headed up north for the Klondike Gold Rush.

When he came back, he started writing, setting many of his stories in the Klondike. He worked as hard at writing as he did at everything else — he stuck to a writing regimen of 1,000 words every morning. And his work paid off — he published The Call of the Wild (1903) when he was just 27 years old, and it made him famous. Between 1900 and 1916, he wrote more than 50 books. But he died in 1916 at the age of 40 from an overdose of morphine, which he was using to treat his uremia.

But it was his grasp of the raw essentials of existence--that have real parallels with the experiences we deliberately (and in a sense artificially) create for ourselves when we run ultras--that snapped me to attention.  London got it right:

In The Call of the Wild, he wrote: "There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight."

And so this ecstasy comes to the ultrarunner as well.

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