Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently sent me copy of Scott Jurek‘s memoir, Eat & Run, to review. OH, IT WAS MY LUCKY DAY! I’d been wanting to read this book since I first heard about it, but hadn’t bought a copy yet.
Like most people, I first heard of Scott Jurek through Christopher McDougall‘s Born to Run, the book that help launched the barefoot running craze and made average distance runners like me suddenly aware of the possibility of ultrarunning, the completely insane practice of running farther than marathon distance — thirty, fifty, one hundred miles. Or more. I’d only ever run as far as 26.2, but I was intrigued.
I had to learn more about the man who had become a legend, winning the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run seven years in a row, the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon twice (that’s the one that goes through the extreme heat of Death Valley), the 152-mile Spartathlon three times (running from Athens to Sparta), and setting the U.S. record for a 24-hour endurance run at 165.7 miles. Oh, and he did all of this (and more) on a vegan diet. Suffice it to say, what I’d already learned about Scott Jurek had launched him to the top of my list of running heroes.
Reading Eat & Run just solidified his position on that list. Scott (with Steve Friedman), writes about his experiences in not only these events, but also about his childhood in rural Minnesota where he hunted and fished and developed his strong, persistent work ethic; his past as a competitive Nordic Skier, where he learned from his coach that “pain only hurts;” and his journey toward the healthy, whole-foods vegan diet that he now credits with keeping him training consistently and recovering quickly.
Eat & Run combines Scott’s stories from a life training and competing with advice for runners and healthy vegan recipes. Each chapter begins with engaging and entertaining tales from the trails, then includes a bit of advice and/or a recipe at the end. I found reading his race accounts to be entirely gripping, but, more than that, I found inspiration in his reflections on how his family shaped him, the things he learned from people in his life, and his thoughts about what running means to him.
I started running for reasons I had only just begun to understand. As a child, I ran in the woods and a round my house for fun. As a teen, I ran to get my body in better shape. Later, I ran to find peace. I ran, and kept running, because I had learned that once you started something you didn’t quit, because in life, much like in an ultramarathon, you have to keep pressing forward. Eventually I ran because I turned into a runner, and my sport brought me physical pleasure and spirited me away from debt and disease, from the niggling worries of everyday existence. I ran because I grew to love other runners. I ran because I loved challenges and because there is no better feeling than arriving at the finish line or completing a difficult training run. And because, as an accomplished runner, I could tell others how rewarding it was to live healthily, to move my body every day, to get through the difficulties, to eat with consciousness, that what mattered wasn’t how much money you made or where you lived, it was how you lived. I ran because overcoming the difficulties of an ultramarathon reminded me that I could overcome the difficulties of life, that overcoming difficulties was life.
If you’re a runner (or athlete of any stripe), I know you identify with that just like I do.
The advice sections of the book include topics like stretching, going easier not harder, getting enough protein, and improving your gait by hitting the right landing zone. His suggestions are practical and easy enough for any runner to implement — and hey, who doesn’t want training advice from Scott Jurek? Nobody, that’s who.
Scott’s recipes are all nutritious vegan food, including lentil-mushroom burgers, Japanese rice balls (onigiri), 8-grain strawberry pancakes, Minnesota winter chili, and a kalamata-hummus trail wrap. Sound good? To cook just like an ultrarunning champion, you have to do more than just avoid animal products: you have to embrace ingredients like nutritional yeast, spirulina, and chia seeds, and processes like milling your own flour or making hemp milk at home. Scott Jurek does not mess around. I’m eager to try a few of the recipes and (as you probably know) I’m already well acquainted with hippie vegan ingredients, but I may stick to using store-bought flours and milks for now. The way Scott cooks and eats is an ideal — a standard befitting an athlete of his experience and abilities — but I think the average cook, vegan or not, can probably make the most out of these recipes even without that homemade hemp milk. As I try some of the recipes in the future, I will keep you posted.
On Thursday evening I had the opportunity to attend a group run and book signing event with Scott at Phidippides (the world’s oldest running store, owned by marathon legend Jeff Galloway!). Luckily, Thursdays happen to be work-from-home days for me, so I was able to make the two-hour drive up to Atlanta. It was worth it.
Photo from Phidippides, via FacebookA huge group of runners gathered at Phidippides for the 6:30 run — I suspect it was just a few more people than they usually have for their weekly group runs. Just a suspicion. It was cold and grey and misty outside, with temperatures in the 40s. If you read my running posts, you already know this is my favorite weather for running.
We set off through the sidewalks of Atlanta, making a loop through Piedmont Park, and down the flowering, tree-lined hill back to the shop. Scott warned everyone that this wasn’t going to be a tempo run — he wanted to start in the front of the pack, then go more and more slowly to work his way back and try to run with as many folks as possible. I don’t think everyone got the “Not a Tempo Run” memo, however, as there were a lot of pounding feet and heavy breathing around me, courtesy of people who were clearly trying to increase the pace. Or maybe they were just excited and trying to catch up to where Scott was up ahead. At any rate, I never caught up to him and wound up finishing the run with the more moderately paced runners in the back of the pack.
Photo from Phidippides, via FacebookAfter the run, we gathered in a large room next to the shop for Scott’s presentation. We watched a short movie that covered some of the events from the book: Scott’s start in ultrarunning in Minnesota, his journey toward a plant-based, vegan diet, and his experiences running all over the world. Scott then spoke, telling us some of his stories with an engaging voice and sense of humor. He’s an easy speaker to listen to — confident and easy-going and friendly. He took questions from as many of us as he could, and we had a chance to get our books signed and our photos taken.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that if you’re already a fan of Scott Jurek, you will really enjoy this book. If you aren’t already a fan, don’t worry; reading Eat & Run will fix that.