As an eighth-grader in rural Minnesota, Scott Jurek hated running. As a high-schooler, he only ran to stay in shape for Nordic skiing. Today, Jurek, 38, is one of the world’s best ultramarathoners and thinks nothing of going out for a 30- or 40-mile run twice a week while logging 120-mile weeks.
Let’s make it clear, though, that running and training for ultramarathons requires Jurek to think constantly about his body’s well-being. Jurek, a physical therapist, is in a sport that actually demands what he calls “intensive body management on long runs.”
“You have to simulate what it’s like (to run more than 100 miles at one time), and practicing fueling is very critical or you end up walking,” he said.
Or, in Jurek’s case, sleeping.
In 2004, during a quest to set a world record running four 100-mile runs in a pre-set timeframe, Jurek lost track of his hydration and ended up stopping to take a three-hour nap. Even though he failed to set a new world record, Jurek finished the race after his nap.
“It was bittersweet. It was my worst race and a great race. It didn’t go perfect, but what stands out for me is I remember getting back out there. It was very rewarding.”
Jurek has discovered in both his career and his running that physical conditioning is only part of a successful formula for an ultramarathoner. He said running has helped him connect with the lost art of “intuition” and the need to pay attention to both the body and environment. As a result, Jurek gradually evolved into a vegetarian and then a vegan.
His new book, “Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness,” details that journey and can provide inspiration for all types of runners, from casual to competitive. But what will surprise most runners is that Jurek has achieved success in his grueling sport using a plant-based diet. Throughout the book Jurek has sprinkled recipes, such as the one for Strawburst Anti-Inflammatory Smoothie, which he uses in place of ibuprofen to treat pain and swelling.
Jurek — like one of his health idols and fellow author, health guru Dr. Andrew Weil — wants to help others find a lifestyle that considers the entire body rather than just promoting exercise or just healthy eating. In his quest for insight into mind, body and spirit, Jurek writes about seeking out the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, whose legendary running lifestyle was profiled in author Christopher Mcdougall’s “Born to Run.”
Jurek had run against some Tarahumara runners, besting them in ultramarathons. But he was told those runners were part of the B and C teams, and that he should run with the A-team in the Tarahumaras’ home in Copper Canyon.
“I thought I could learn from these ancient tribes and why I was doing this crazy sport,” Jurek said.
Jurek writes about discovering how the Tarahumara may have the purest approach to running. He notes: “The real secret of the Tarahumara: They didn’t prepare for runs. They didn’t run to win or for medals. And they didn’t eat so they could run. They ate, and they ran, to survive.”
He also found that the Tarahumara in their running discover what Jurek calls “a zone beyond geography and beyond even the five senses.” (A more curious reader wanting to know more about “zones” might consider the book “The Harvard Psychedelic Club” which details the early days of LSD and Weil’s membership in that elite club.)
Jurek writes that he is convinced “that a lot of people run ultramarathons for the same reason they take mood-altering drugs”: “The longer and farther I ran the more I realized that what I was often chasing was a state of mind.”
Jurek is traveling the country promoting his new book and running with local runners at his stops, hoping to inspire people to keep motivated and possibly to adopt a healthier style of eating.
He probably won’t focus on the puking and torn ligaments that seem to go “foot in foot” with running ultramarathons. He will focus instead on the delights of tofu, fruit, long grain rice, beans — and coconut ice cream. “Hey,” he said. “I’m a fan of dark chocolate.”
The author hosts a "fun run" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 20,
at Playmakers, 2299 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos. It will be followed by a signing and Q&A session at 8:30 p.m.
Free, but RSVPs are requested at www.playmakers.com