“Running Past Empty”

This excellent article from Costco Connection (by Julie Hagy www.freelancewriterdenver.com) is worth repeating here. I’ve run many marathons, but never gone beyond 26.2 miles. So, Scott Jurek is a ‘giant’ to me, and the book “Born to Run” is one of my all-time favorites.

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IF SOMEONE HAD told a young Scott Jurek that he would grow up to become one of the most accomplished ultradistance runners in the world, he would have laughed. Growing up in rural Minnesota, Jurek ate plenty of fast food, had high blood pressure and ran only enough to stay in the good graces of his cross-country ski coach. Running far was the farthest thing from his mind.

“As a kid, running was something you did for punishment,” he says, laughing. “You know, run an extra lap.”

Jurek, a Costco member, recalls, “My coach said to do something over the summer to train. I couldn’t afford a bike or roller skis, so I just started to run.” What started as a mile-and-ahalf jog steadily increased in mileage and speed for the high school sophomore. The exercise was gratifying: The farther he ran, the faster he became on his skis.

In college, Jurek continued to run only casually, until a buddy, Dusty Olson, suggested that his speed and endurance on the slopes could translate to pavement. Olson dared Jurek, who had run one marathon previously, to run a 50-mile race with him. Jurek took the dare.

At the age of 20, he entered the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon with Olson. It was Jurek’s first experience with ultras, races that cover any distance greater than a marathon. He came in second. “I started to realize not only how much fun [running] was, but that I was able to put myself out there and accomplish something that initially seemed impossible,” says Jurek.

Two years later, he won that very same race. From there, he has gone on to win and set records at most of the world’s prestigious ultradistance races, including the Spartathlon and seven straight wins of the Western States 100- Mile Endurance Run.

“Scott accomplished what no one else will,” says ultrarunning historian Buzz Burrell. “He wasn’t the most talented guy out there. But he studied really hard. He trained really hard. He has his brain, his heart and his gut in [the sport], and that’s why he’s respected.”

Jurek did not set out to obtain the notoriety running has brought him. Running, to him, has always been about testing his own limits and experiencing nature. “I spent a lot of time in the woods as a kid, hunting and fishing, connecting to wild places. Running has been this vehicle to get out into the wilderness. It gets me out exploring places I might not otherwise see. Preserving that connection has been important,” he says. He admits that very little money comes with winning races, yet he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.

“I never thought I’d be running for sport or for fun. What I do is out of the norm nowadays. Ultrarunning, while it seems crazy, it’s an extension of those survival instincts people have,” he says, reflecting on how society has largely moved away from the sustained labor required by hunting-and-gathering and agrarian lifestyles. “Nowadays we live pretty comfortably. Ultrarunning gives me a taste of what it was like to survive years ago. We’re all a little crazy, do things that seem out of the norm. I think that’s a good thing.”

Jurek’s incredible determination and endurance are chronicled in Christopher McDougall’s best-seller, Born to Run (Vintage; 2011, not available at Costco), which brought international attention to both Jurek and ultrarunning. In his own memoir, Eat & Run (scott jurek.com), co-authored by Steve Friedman, Jurek writes about how his lifestyle, specifically exercise and diet, has influenced his career.

Twenty years after that first ultramarathon entry, Jurek, 40, sits across from me in a bakery at the base of the mountain trails he trains on in Boulder, Colorado. He’s wearing running gear, and dipping a spoon into a bowl of cooling oatmeal. Jurek has broad shoulders and a broad smile. The long hair of his early running years, a good-luck charm, is now a mass of short curls. Standing tall at 6 feet 2 inches, Jurek doesn’t look like a typical runner. Then again, typical is not really a word associated with this man.

“I grew up with a mother who was a home ec teacher. For me, cooking was just part of the daily routine. It instilled in me an early drive to make that a priority,” says Jurek, who learned, through cooking, to reduce his fast- food consumption. He still enjoys cooking, often creating his own recipes.

His mother also influenced his career path. “Being interested in whole health was influenced by having a mother who had multiple sclerosis,” he says. As a boy, he watched a physical therapist work with his mother in their home. Inspired, he would go on to earn a master’s degree in the field and open his own practice.

As a physical therapist, Jurek became concerned that some of his patients’ poor diets were affecting their ability to heal. He started to convert his own diet. “I found my body would recover [from runs] faster on a plant-based diet,” says Jurek, who has been vegan since 1999.

As he continues to talk about the importance of eating whole foods and integrating movement into daily routines, I start to wiggle in my seat. “Want to go for a run?” I ask.

On a day that is sunny in most of the country, it is snowing in the mountains of Boulder. The snow slushes under our running shoes.

I almost expect his feet to fly above the ground. Graciously, though, he lets me set the pace. I am training for a half marathon at the end of the month. Jurek is preparing for 24 The Hard Way, an ultramarathon in Oklahoma City in October at which he will attempt to break the American record by running more than 172.5 miles within 24 hours.

“He previously held this record. [Jurek’s record was broken in 2012 by Mike Morton.] I do think he can do it again. If anybody has the ability to dig deep and go beyond, it’s Scott,” says ultramarathon runner Krissy Moehl, who calls Jurek a mentor and friend. “I’ve seen him do it many times.”

Jurek hopes that his goal setting will provide inspiration for others to make lifestyle changes. “I used to hate running and I used to hate vegetables. Life is about learning. Life is about being open to possibilities,” he says. “One of my biggest goals is to pass on my experience and knowledge, to motivate and inspire others, not necessarily to go win an ultramarathon, but to go out for that first workout, to get interested in moving their bodies, in eating well.” C

For my perspective on nutrition for sports, you can watch my webinar: Fueling For Peak Performance.

My next post will include Scott Jurek’s tips on health, nutrition and exercise.