Scott Jurek may be the most recognizable ultra runner around, as famous for his dominance as he is for his diet. If you read Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, the name may ring a bell. His recent memoir, Eat and Run, takes us through the highs and highers of his athletic career. His ability to run 100+ miles in grueling conditions at breakneck speed is hard to comprehend until you get to know him, or read his book, whichever opportunity comes first.
Non-vegans have a tendency to mock the plant-based diet, questioning how it can satisfy much less sustain an average person’s needs. As a competitive athlete, Jurek’s interest in the diet grows as he seeks ways to improve his performance. He was a fast runner who assumed, like many, that meat protein was essential for building stamina. When Jurek finally makes the switch to a 100% vegan diet, he feels better, recovers quicker and has more endurance. He also starts winning races like mad, noting that in college running turned into a “kind of meditation”.
If the process of optimizing a vegan diet doesn’t sound very interesting, know that food is only a fraction of the focus. Jurek doesn’t live to eat; he eats to push himself to extremes. Such extremes make up the meat of this memoir (PUN FUN!) which begins in the middle of Badwater with Jurek keeled over sick on the side of the road. His body is shutting down from the intense heat and exertion. Everything in him wants to quit.
It is human nature to ask why we put ourselves in certain situations and why life places hurdles in our path.
Maybe you could run for 24 straight hours, or race for 100 miles over mountains and rivers, but I’d peter out around lunch time. As tempting as it is to put Jurek in the almost-inhuman category, in part to feel less lacking, the man is human. His accomplishments are the effect of putting in the work both mentally and physically. And this makes for some useful reading.
going on – especially when going on seems so foolish – is the most meaningful thing in the world
Early on, he relocates from the Midwest to Washington to train on mountains for Western States. He learns on his feet that ultras are run piece by piece. You can apply this perspective to any challenge. Breaking it down piece by piece will get you to the finish line, whether it’s 10 miles or three rewrites away.
In truth, I read this to glean running and cooking tips. Every chapter ends with a vegan recipe that will have you licking your lips and adding miso paste to everything (with mixed results). So far I’ve only tried one full recipe, Incan Quinoa Porridge, which is so good I’m slowly becoming it. But what really held my attention was the constant questioning of why – why things are the way they are, why we do the things we do.
What I was often chasing was a state of mind – a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came into sharp focus.
Jurek’s record includes seven wins at Western States, Badwater, and Spartathalon and on his second try he even beat one of the famous Tarahumara. He’s full of go and has earned the flashes of cockiness peppered throughout. As for what he thinks about when he’s running hour after hour –
… the key is to become immersed in the present moment where nothing else matters
– about sums it up.
Running can’t give you a perfect life, but it can give you deep friendships and momentary visits to that place where you find out how far you can really go. I’m not one to go around putting philosophies in authors’ mouths, but this line seems to sum up his admirable approach to life, running and food:
We can live as we are meant to live – simply, joyously, of and on the earth.
As a vegan and a runner, I was wrong to assume I was part of the small target demographic. The audience is much broader. This is not a preachy vegan book or a manifesto on running as a way of life. It’s as much about competitive grit as anything else. It’s slice of life, a big slice of an extraordinary, imperfect life.