Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Book Review: Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek
If you are reading this blog, I'm going to assume you are a runner, probably an ultrarunner, and you are familiar with Scott Jurek. Scott Jurek is viewed by many in the ultrarunning community as a respected ambassador of the sport. Looking at Jurek from afar, one sees a quiet, unassuming runner who has a long list of ultrarunning accomplishments, including numerous wins, course records and the American record in the 24 hour race format. This book is the first time I recall Jurek doing some serious self-promotion, but as you read the book, you feel that rather than promoting himself, Jurek is simply sharing his story in order to pass on what he has learned. Jurek does not come off as pretentious; he is the winner of the race who stays at the finish line to congratulate all the other runners. He said, of sitting at the Western States finish line, "If you were an ultrarunner, you were an ultrarunner...We paid the same price and garnered the same joy. And staying at the finish line, I got to remind myself of our collective struggle, to experience that joy over and over again." Gestures like that earn you respect in the world of ultrarunning.
When I first read the title of the book, I assumed the book would focus a lot on Jurek's vegan lifestyle and a little less about his running. I was pleasantly surprised to find that while the vegan lifestyle is the cornerstone of his running, the book was really the story of Jurek's ultrarunning career. The book weaves together three integral parts of his ultrarunning journey: his childhood background, his vegan lifestyle and his friendship with Dusty Olsen. Each chapter then ends with some useful running tips and a vegan recipe, striking a nice balance of autobiography and how-to advice.
In his book, Jurek credits his tough childhood for laying the foundation for his ultrarunning career. He watched his mother, diagnosed at an early age with multiple sclerosis, slowly deteriorate, while Jurek took on added responsibilities and dealt with his authoritarian father who, understandably, had difficulty dealing with his wife's illness. His father's phrase, "Sometimes we just do things" is a central theme in the book. Running became an escape for Jurek and the discipline he learned from his father turned into self-discipline later.
Jurek also credits turning vegan as a game-changer for his running career. He outlines how his overall running, energy, and recovery time improved once he cut out the animal products and figured out how to get adequate protein from other sources. He had trained hard but could not reach his goals until he changed his diet. Jurek does not preach to the reader, but his story makes one think a little more about food choices.
Despite what he refers to as the lonely nature of our sport, Jurek describes just how tight friendships with other ultrarunners can be. One constant in his running career was Dusty Olsen, his bad-boy, rebellious best friend, who, Jurek admitted, had more natural running talent. Dusty got him into ultrarunning and supported him throughout, pacing and crewing him to many of his wins. Dusty had little sympathy for any issue Jurek had during a race and constantly pushed him harder. At Western States, as Jurek was on his knees, vomiting violently, Dusty tells him to "do that sh*t standing up. "C'mon, let's get running." Jurek thinks a lot about his running and how to improve it, but Dusty never gave Jurek any choice but to run and run hard.
One thing that struck me with Jurek's story is just how similar ultrarunners are, whether they are breaking course records or struggling with cut-offs. Many times while reading, I found myself relating to Jurek's experiences. From the drive to train to bad decision-making to dealing with struggles in a race, Jurek shows just how alike we are. While the book's subtitle is "My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness," from my experiences with ultrarunners and their motivations, I found nothing at all unlikely about his story.
I really don't know how non-ultrarunners will receive Eat and Run. A book that starts off with the author puking at Badwater and watching the puke evaporate before it hit the road might not be appealing to some readers. But I enjoyed Jurek's story of his ups and downs, his overcoming obstacles, and his rediscovery of the joy of ultrarunning. Although at times the book left me wishing for more details, it did make me want to go out and run...and make some guacamole.