Eat & Run

Just finished reading “Eat & Run,” by Scott Jurek. Really enjoyed it. And now I’m going to take a short break from reading about ultrarunning, because just reading the race accounts has started to make my joints hurt.

For anyone who doesn’t know of Scott Jurek, he has been an elite ultrarunner for over 20 years. To list his accomplishments would take up too much space. Let’s just say that if there is an ultramarathon you have heard of, he has probably run it. And won it. More than once. He was also featured in “Born to Run,” by Chris McDougall. In the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, which is the centerpiece event in that book, Jurek placed second, only finishing 6 minutes behind Arnulfo, a famed champion Tarahumara runner from the Copper Canyon region.

While I found Scott’s accounts of his many races interesting and inspiring, what I liked more about the book was that I found Scott interesting and inspiring. He details how a difficult upbringing – very poor family, ill mother, tough father, instilled in him the character needed to tackle ultramarathons. It doesn’t seem that Scott has ever had it easy. And instead of taking the difficulties life handed him and letting them swallow him, he used them to grow and improve. He notes that the challenges he faced as a child – difficult homelife, working from a very young age, being bullied – made him accustomed to being uncomfortable, which is exactly what an ultrarunner needs to do to succeed. Talk about making lemons out of lemonade. And he manages to convey this message in a matter-of-fact, non-preachy, non-“poor me” tone. It’s inspiring.

He talks often about strength of will. He notes that he does not have a great runner’s body, or a great runner’s form. He does, however, possess willpower made of iron, and it has carried him many, many, many miles. I really enjoyed reading about his analysis of the mind and the changes it goes through during an ultramarathon.

He also talks a lot about his plant-based diet, and includes some of his favorite recipes. He has been vegan for many years, despite having grown up in a meat & potatoes household in Minnesota. He somehow manages to tout the benefits of veganism without sounding preachy, which is an impressive feat (says this dedicated carnivore). Although I don’t think I will ever ascribe to his particular eating habits, I do agree with what he has to say about the quality of food that you eat and your body’s performance, and it gave me a lot to think about in terms of tweaks to my own diet, especially when I am training for something.

Scott also has some great words of wisdom about competing. Time and again, he makes the point that even in a zero-sum competition, it is more about the journey than the destination. Though he always would like to win a race, he feels it is most important to look at how he conducted himself before and during the race. Did he train properly? Did he make wise decisions during the race? Did he listen to his body when necessary and overrule his mind when he needed to? He reminds that the finish time or place is but one factor in a successful race. In terms of his conduct after races, he is known as being one of the most gracious and respectful runners on the circuit. His regular habit after finishing an ultra is to grab his sleeping bag and then camp out at the finish line so he can congratulate each person as he or she finishes. For someone to do that after running (literally) for days shows a generosity of spirit that is both refreshing and inspiring.

So, my overall assessment: two thumbs up. Quick read, some interesting accounts and inspiring message. Scott Jurek has a new fan.

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