Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book review: Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek

Anyone who followed my marathon journey last summer knows that I struggle a great deal with mental toughness. I think I worked as hard on training my mind to run that race as I did my body. I had a lot of self doubt and I had a lot to prove to myself. I called it my redemption race. I wrote a couple posts about my challenges. You can read one of them here. I read once somewhere that running a distance race is 90% mental. You know the outcome of my marathon was a good one and I'm as proud of that finish time as I am of my ability to power through that 26.2! As I continue on this running journey of mine, I turn to articles and books written by successful distance runners. Although it isn't new (2013), I've been anxious to read this book by Scott Jurek, the most successful American ultrarunner ever. I'm not an ultrarunner, nor to I have aspirations to be an ultrarunner, but I wanted to see if there was anything I could learn from his story. I figured that anyone who can run and win a 135 mile race in Death Valley has to have something to offer a middle-aged mom who runs for fun. I was not disappointed. This was a well written book of his decade-plus championship career. It is also a story of his life. In order to become a champion, he needed to make changes both on the trail and off. The changes were gradual, but culminated in great success on the trail and peace and contentment in his personal life.
"The reward of running-of anything-lies within us."

Handheld, no fuel belt. Just sayin'...
Jurek didn't start out as an ultramarathoner-he kind of fell into it. Raised in northern Minnesota, in a hunting and fishing family, his first sport was cross country skiing. He started running in the off season to stay fit. He ran a marathon, finished in under 3 hours and then ran a 50 mile ultra, finishing 2d overall. He believed he could win and he did (my mantra=I can and I will!), and traveled west to run and win the Western States 100 as an unknown. He overheard disparaging comments from the seasoned runners, and I loved how he used those comments to push himself to a victory. Jurek continued to run and win ultramarathons. The narrative of the races is fascinating, as he describes the races themselves, but also what was going through his head at different points in time.
"...the key is to become immersed in the present moment when nothing else matters.."
Jurek worked as much on training his mind as he did his body. Sound familiar? He also had added incentive to stay tough. His mother suffered from multiple sclerosis and was wheelchair bound. She never complained, though, and he drew on her mental strength to help fuel his mental toughness. There are so many amazing quotes from this book:
"You could carry your burdens lightly or with great effort. You could worry about tomorrow or not. You could imagine horrible fates or garland-filled tomorrows. None of it mattered as long as you moved, as long as you did something. Asking why was fine, but it wasn't action. Nothing brought the rewards of moving, of running. Sometimes you just do things."
"Every single one of us possesses the strength to attempt something he isn't sure he can accomplish." 
He talks about running the 2001 Western States as a pacer with a severely sprained ankle:
"Four simple steps: First, I let myself worry. Second, I took stock.....Third, I asked myself what I could do to remedy the situation ...The fourth and final step: Separate my negative feelings from the issue at hand. Realizing that my negative feelings had little to do with reality made this step the easiest of all."
The power of the mind is great indeed...maybe running on an injury isn't the smartest move but when you have no choice, you need to be able to power through it. And even if you aren't running on an injury, but are facing self doubt, this is some amazing advice, if you ask me!

Cooling off (in a cooler of ice) during Badwater
"As powerful as our legs are, as magnificent as our lungs and arms and muscles are, nothing matters more than the mind."
Isn't that the truth? This was a quick read and a greatly motivating book. There were just so many great quotes--I had to bookmark them all.  I hated for the book to come to an end. I just wanted to soak up all his knowledge and become Zen like him. In the book, he also talks a lot about becoming vegan and winning on a plant based diet. While I'm not interested in becoming vegan, or even vegetarian, as runner, I can certainly understand and appreciate the effects of eating a clean diet. He provides recipes for some of his favorite meals and snacks. Jurek also addresses burnout, the loneliness of running long distances, and running addiction, as well as peaking and accepting the end of a spectacular career. Throughout the book there are relationship issues and interpersonal stress. He's just like the rest of us!

with a Tarahumara runner (notice the sandals!)
Well, ok, not so much...he runs with the Tarahumara and Caballo Blanco. And keeps up with them.

What an amazing story! This book should be on every runners' must read list, even if you aren't an ultramarathoner. There is so much you can draw on from his story.
" can be transformed. Not overnight, but over time. Life is not a race. Neither is an ultramarathon, not really, even though it looks like one. There is no finish line. We strive towards a goal, and whether we achieve it or not is important, but it's not what's most important. What matters is how we move towards that goal. What's crucial is the step we're taking now, the step you're taking now."
And that's advice all of us can take to the starting line.

Do you want to learn more?
Eat and Run Official Website
Born to Run-the book that featured Jurek, the Tarahumara, and started the barefoot running craze
Runner's World "The King of Pain" a nice synopsis of Jurek's life
NY Times article on Jurek's vegan diet
Ragnarian! at Wasatch Back in June
The Runner's Trip- this ultramarathoning blogger attended an interview of Scott Jurek. And walked away a little disappointed....

And in case you want to know, he runs in Brooks Cascadia.

I'm linking this post up with Sara's Book Club!


  1. I want to read this book! I know several who have read his stuff. I think I'd enjoy it. Thanks for sharing! And I too had a hard time with the 'mental' part of the marathon. My mind gave out way before my body did. But once my mind gave in, my body soon followed!

    1. The mental training is much tougher than the physical! Its a work in progress for me!

  2. I need this book. I've heard so many great things about it and this is the most solid review I've read. It just made me want to read it more!
    That ice bath looks awesome. :)

    1. I really liked it! I wish I could channel some of that Zen-nis that he seems to possess!

  3. this book sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing you just made me want to read it.

    1. I really enjoyed it...I'll be going back to the passages I highlighted from time to time!

  4. WOW! Sounds like a great book and you wrote a great review. Thanks for sharing.

  5. So many motivational quotes! This sounds like a great read. Thanks for a great review :0)

  6. I wan to read this! I love inspiring running books-so much so that I reviewed ultrarunner Dean Karnazes' book as my choice for the BC this month!

  7. I completely agree with your thought that there would be something in this for any runner. I loved this, even though I find him wonderfully insane. There's something amazing about people who are able to make running their careers, but also find time to give back. I loved Dusty