Just finished Scott Jurek’s book

I know …

I didn’t realize he had written a book either – until it showed up on my desk at work a few weeks ago. My editor put it there; he didn’t want me to write about it (for the newspaper) but thought I might like to read it. I doubt my editor’s even heard of Scott Jurek. Not many have. That’s how it goes in the ultra obscure world of ultramarathons.

Jurek is known for winning – and setting the course record – at the Western States 100. He won it seven times in a row, actually. He’s known for winning – and setting the course record – at the Badwater 135-miler – just two weeks after winning Western States.

He’s also known – although infamously – for the time he helped carry Brian Morrison (whom Jurek was pacing) across the finish line at Western States, thus disqualifying Morrison, though Jurek had few other options at the time.

And you may recognize his name as being a featured character in the bestseller “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.

If you’re not a runner, you may never have heard of Jurek. But his book isn’t solely about running. The title “Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness” suggests that. McDougall’s book centers around the tireless and simplistic Tarahumara Indians, and Jurek gives his own version of competing against them in his own book.

A portion of “Eat and Run” weaves in Jurek’s discovery of a strictly vegan diet, which at first was a turnoff for a carnivore like myself. But he doesn’t belabor his lifestyle choice. He was, like many of us, a former lover of McDonald’s and other assorted non-healthy habits. And he finishes each chapter with one of his favorite recipes – from chocolate Adzuki bars to a strawberry anti-inflammatory smoothie.

Again, I could care less about the recipes, but putting them in is a good way to appeal to the reader, maybe draw in non-runners or to simply give people something to think about or even try.

There are, of course, many chapters chronicling his races. In any ultra, there’s always a story of struggle and survival, and his are no different. He ran the Hardrock 100 with a badly swollen ankle and completed another race on a broken toe.

But the tale of his upbringing is maybe the most identifiable human-interest angle of the book. Jurek had a difficult relationship with his father, whose words “sometimes you just do things” (his response to young Scott’s innocent and repetitive questions of “why”) come up often.

His mother, however, became Jurek’s most inspiring figure. She was sapped of her strength – and ability to walk and take care of herself – by Multiple Sclerosis – and in turn, gives her son the strength to carry on during such feats as the 152- mile Spartathlon in Greece and the 24-hour world championships, where he eventually set an American record.

Each chapter, like many books, begins with an inspirational quote. Nothing new there. But the final one about the best journey not being “east to west or ground to summit, but from heart to head” gives you an idea of where Jurek went spiritually after all those course records and victories.

After years of conquering, he was left with thoughts of “what’s next?” and “why do I run?”

I think a lot of people can identify with that. Not with all the winning, but coming up with the answer to those questions.

Jurek also explores why and how some runners can push through barriers they never thought possible while others – such as Morrison – can run 100 miles, then fold up like a collapsible chair with 300 meters to go.

If “Eat and Run” hadn’t appeared on my desk, would I have bought it? I’m not sure. There are not a lot of running books out there, and I found myself compelled during Jurek’s many struggles on the trails. I would, however, recommend it for any runner. Not many people can identify with the distances he ran, but his desire to be the best he can be should ring true with many others.

And if you’re like me and just want to know what makes someone “tick,” this book will satisfy that quest.

“Eat and Run” is due to hit stores on June 5, the same day Jurek begins a book tour in New York City. He’ll be in Boston, along with McDougall, on Wednesday (June 6) at the Brattle Theatre. A group fun run is planned beforehand; a book signing and Q&A follow at 6 p.m. at the Brattle.

I’d love to join him for the run, just to see who turns out, and maybe stick around afterward, but I’m working that night. C’est la vie.

Jurek is then off to Chicago and D.C. for the rest of the week.

Late in his book, Jurek seems to value the simple act of running much more than he does winning. And each of his book tour appearances includes a fun run. If he doesn’t enjoy that, he may want to do some more soul searching.

He has a book he can be proud of. It may not be a best seller, but like his races, he seems to have put his all into it.


2 Responses to “Just finished Scott Jurek’s book”

  1. June 28, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Hello Tim, Remember Bozeman and your friends here? I also recently started this book… sigh, it was one of my rewards to myself for entering, attempting and completing my first ultramarathon, Bighorn 50K! whew! What a run and what a book. cheers, Tanis Casey (mom of Russian and Philippine adopted kids)

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