When running in the mountains, I’ve seen many footprints on the paths. Sometimes I’m reminded of people like John Burroughs, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau, who wandered the forests during the 19th and early 20th century, experiencing nature as a source of beauty, strength, and inspiration. There are older tracks, too, for behind these figures lurks another spirit: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the essayist, lecturer, poet, and father of the American Transcendentalist movement.
I hadn’t read Emerson since college, but one day it occurred to me that there could be a connection between “Transcendentalism” and the sport of ultra-running, if for no other reason that those who run longer distances than the conventional 26.2-mile marathon, are driven in part to do so by a desire to “transcend” perceived limits. I began to wonder, might ultra-runners be carrying Emerson’s banner, without even knowing it?