“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.” ~ William James
Well-Being had the pleasure of speaking to Scott Jurek, elite athlete, world renowned ultramarathoner, vegan and author of Eat & Run, about his grueling sport, his commitment to thriving on a plant-based diet and his philosophy of living life in the moment. We found him approachable and passionate about the challenge of attaining new goals, whether they be on the course of a long-distance race or in the kitchen preparing a 100% plant-based meal capable of fueling his body for one of the world’s most demanding sports.
>>WELL-BEING: What first drew you to ultramarathon? JUREK: The biggest thing was the challenge. I was 20 years old, not really a runner, but I ran as a part of my training for cross country skiing, my sport of choice at the time.
>>WELL-BEING: You’ve competed all over the world. What are some of your favorite places inside the U.S. and in other countries? JUREK: There is so much beauty wherever I travel, but I have to say that the Alps, in Switzerland, France and Italy are just spectacular. I also have loved visiting Greece. I competed there and was drawn to the history and of course the food. Here in the U.S., I love the Rockies of the West and in the East, there’s the Appalachian Trail. I just recently finished a run there and the Appalachians have their own special beauty…and the people are great.
>>WELL-BEING: Have you ever competed in the southeast U.S.? JUREK: I’ve never competed in the Deep South – Mississippi, Alabama or Georgia, but I did an event with Chris McDougall (author of Born to Run) in Hattiesburg several years ago, and enjoyed seeing that part of the country. There are a lot more wooded areas than I would have expected.
>>WELL-BEING: When you’re running for hours on end, what do you think about? JUREK: Honestly, I try not to think too much. Thinking is the enemy of long-distance running – you start to focus on how hot it is, how far you have to go, or how much pain you feel. The goal is to get away from your thoughts, where you exist totally in the present moment and put your total concentration on the trail and your surroundings. In modern life we think too much. On the trail you can immerse yourself in your environment.
>>WELL-BEING: When you are training for some of the longer distance races, what is your weekly mileage? JUREK: When I’m in prime training mode I am running around 110 -112 miles per week. It doesn’t sound like that much, but on extremely rugged terrain, with lots of up hill and down, they are hard earned miles.
>>WELL-BEING: Eating a strictly plant-based diet, how many calories do you take in on a typical day. JUREK: When I’m not in training I probably average about 2000 – 3000 calories a day. When I’m in the peak of training or the day after a big run on the weekend I average about 4000 to 5000 calories.
>>WELL-BEING: What kinds of meals might you eat the day before a long training run? JUREK: I try to keep my diet balanced and get a good combination of protein, fat and carbohydrates. The biggest mistake a lot of people make if they are eating a vegan or vegetarian diet is getting enough fat and calories to keep their energy up. The good thing about the plant-based diet is that you can eat a lot of food since the calories are usually less.
>>WELL-BEING: I read that you like to carry a burrito or two with you in your pack to eat along the trail. What other foods/drinks do you take in? JUREK: I use a lot of the typical sports foods – bars, gels, energy foods, but I also will have bananas, sweet potatoes cooked ahead, burritos as you mentioned, and rice balls, or Onigiri. I like to break up the sweet sports foods. When I’m out so many hours, it’s nice to have a mixture of different flavors and textures.
>>WELL-BEING: How does your understanding of body mechanics from your training in physical therapy help you when you are training or competing? JUREK: I think it helps me prevent injuries and also with healing. It’s important to listen to your body, to be aware if something feels wrong and see somebody about it early on. Find a doctor or therapist who will work with you to rehab and not just tell you to quit whatever your sport is. If you are just starting out training or taking up a new sport, start slow and vary your activities.
>>WELL-BEING: I’ve read that you enjoy studying philosophy. What are some of your favorite philosophers? JUREK: I like the work of William James. I’ve quoted him a lot and find what he has to say fitting in my life. I also like the Existentialists, the whole idea of examining why we do what we do. It’s helped me understand why I do ultramarathon and the benefit of taking on adversity and challenge.
>>WELL-BEING: Are meditation and yoga a part of your daily routine? JUREK: Not every day, but I try to incorporate some yoga and meditation with my regular training to keep my life balanced. It all depends on my schedule.
>>WELL-BEING: Do you have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner you like to prepare? JUREK: It varies. Sometimes it is ethnic, or sometimes we have “traditional” dishes with a different spin. I grew up in the Mid-West so mashed potatoes were a big part of my childhood. I make those with non-dairy milk and oil so they have the creamy taste and texture. We also might have sweet potatoes, different kinds of squashes, and various beans, all of which have rich flavor. Sometimes I might include a vegan stuffing with mushrooms and wild rice. One thing I like about my diet is that it helps me think outside the box and be more creative. It doesn’t have to be restrictive.
>>WELL-BEING: Do you have plans for another book anytime soon? JUREK: Yes. As a matter of fact I’m in the process of working on one right now that will be an account of my recent trek of the Appalachian Trail.
>>WELL-BEING: With so many accomplishments under your belt, how do you find new challenges? JUREK: I think it’s important for us all to actively look for new goals and challenges that motivate and excite us. One way I do it is to run with friends – not everyday, but maybe once a week. I get inspiration from running with other people. I think that’s true of exercise in general. When you train or workout with other people, they can help keep your fire stoked to push your
self to a new level. The other thing I would say is to try to remember to keep it fun. I think doing a variety of activities can help with that, so it doesn’t get stale or monotonous. For me it’s all about moving forward. When we push ourselves beyond the comfort zone of the status quo, we find strength we didn’t know we had.