Friday, July 20, 2018

Book Review: North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek

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Well-known ultramarathoner Scott Jurek could have rested on his accomplishments without taking on any other challenge. The 7-time Western States 100 mile winner and record holder for many other ultramarathons says he always dreamed of doing a long trail hike. Hiking the Pacific Coast Trail with his wife, he had an epiphany. Knowing that his career was coming to an end, he had the idea to beat the Appalachian Trail speed record.

His plan? To cover the entire 2,189 miles while climbing and descending over the course of about 6 weeks. His wife asked why.
"Because I'm stuck. Because I'm forty and I need to feel what it's like to go to the edge again, and then go farther. Because I'm so thankful for everything I have, and for just a little while I need to remember what it feels like to have none of it." ~Scott Jurek
In 2015, Scott Jurek broke the AT speed record in 46 days, 8 hours, 7 minutes. North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail is the story of his journey.



Accompanied by his wife Jenny who crewed for the entire journey and a host of friends and fans, Jurek shares his trials and tribulations throughout the book. His wife also shares her perspective as his crew and mate. Their stories are an interesting juxtaposition and a true testament to a strong marriage. Reading this story, I can't imagine the stress these 46 days put on their marriage.

Jurek is a vegan, so there were the challenges of making sure he had enough calories--he required 7000 calories per day-- and good quality protein. Jenny manned their support van, named Castle Black. Jurek's quest on the 'Green Tunnel', so nicknamed for the thick foliage that is characteristic of the AT, started in Georgia.
"Sometimes you have to go backward to go forward."~Scott Jurek
"That first day, I felt myself slipping into a rhythm I would later try to remember and replicate during more challenging days. The tunnel swallowed me, then spat me out, then swallowed me again. " ~Scott Jurek
Jurek takes us on his journey and enthralls us with his challenges. I didn't find this book one bit boring, in fact, I had trouble putting it down. I was both amazed and stunned at his perseverance.  There were many points in the book that I felt frustrated with him--be it when he would stop to spend time with fans instead moving forward or when he was so ill he should have gone to the hospital instead of pushing ahead. Pretty sure his wife felt the same way. But that's what separates the champions from us mere mortals, right?

Speaking of fans, I can't believe how many of them showed up along the trail to run with him! I guess that's how it is in the ultramarathoning world. Me, I'd be so intimidated, I couldn't imagine doing that. But this just shows what a nice guy Scott is. If you didn't get that feeling from his last book, Eat and Run or in Christopher McDougall's excellent book Born to Run, you can't help but feel like you know him well after this story.

Jurek and his wife Jenny are excellent storytellers and even if you are not an ultramarathoner, this is a book that anyone would enjoy. Ultramarathoners will recognize a lot of familiar names in the book. Many of Scott's cronies turn up along the journey to run with him. One of my favorite characters in the book is Horty. What a kook! He has no filter but seems to be the catalyst the Jurek needs at his lowest points.

By the way, the AT trail record has already been broken twice since Jurek's attempt. That doesn't make his accomplishment any less of a story. If you want to learn more about Karl "Speedgoat" Meltzer's attempt to break Jurek's record, there's an excellent documentary on Netflix "Made to Be Broken". Scott Jurek even shows up to help his old pal beat his record. In North, Jurek talks about the importance of passing on the wisdom he gained from his journey.

Not only was Jurek's quest an attempt to reconnect with his old self, the ultramarathoner who needed to beat himself one more time, he sums up this challenge as "transformation". On his journey he says, he found himself again.
"Out there in the wild, on a long journey, you hike your own hike, blaze your own trail, and only you can find what you are looking for. " ~Scott Jurek
Have you read North? Do you follow Scott Jurek? Are you inspired by his accomplishments? What's the toughest endurance challenge you've ever attempted?

Welcome to the Book Club! While I no longer host a linkup, I do share a monthly book review and invite readers to join in! If you post a review on your blog, send me the link and I'll add it to this post. Thanks so much for supporting the Book Club!


For August, we've got a fun read! Recommended by Allie at Vita Train 4 Life, Living With a Seal by Jesse Itzler is his story of getting in shape with a Navy Seal. He doesn't just train with him, he lives with him for a month. Guaranteed to motivate as well as entertain, I thought this would be the perfect read to wrap up summer! The review will go live on August 16.



I'm linking this post with Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy for the Friday Five!




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32 comments :

  1. Wow this does seem like an incredible story! I cannot even imagine taking that on something like this. You do have to go backwards to go to forward sometimes don't you?

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  2. Oh gosh I'm sure there is so much wisdom gained from adventures like that. I chuckle when he says "Because I'm 40..." I'll take 40!! Haha!

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    1. I guess for him, 40 is old. Especially since he won't be able to win those hot ultras anymore.

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  3. "But that's what separates the champions from us mere mortals" - is exactly what has been going through my mind as I follow Lewis Pugh who is currently swimming the English Channel to raise awareness for ocean pollution. Shathiso @www.thegaboronerunner.com

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    1. Oh, that's exciting! I'll have to check it out!

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  4. I am always amazed about what others are capable of.

    I am reading Run The World. Have you read it?

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    1. Yes, and reviewed it here on the blog several years ago. It's a good one!

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  5. I just finished listening to this as an audio book and I loved it. It was great to hear their voices tell their story! Totally recommend it!

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  6. Reading North now and enjoying it. Also loved Made to Be Broken.

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    1. What I loved was how the 2 men helped each other break the record. Such a supportive community. You don't often see that in the road running world!

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  7. I just heard a little about Scott's journey on the MTA podcast. And now here, thanks for sharing. I can't wait to read the book! I have watched Made to Be Broken a couple of times. Love it.

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    1. The whole ultra running culture just intrigues me!

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  8. It's weird because 40 isn't really any age for an ultrarunner - maybe he's worn himself out, though! I really want to read this but I'm being controlled and putting it on my wishlist!

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    1. He's really done a lot--I wonder what will be next for him?

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  9. This book sounds fascinating and inspiring. Sounds like a great summer read and page turner. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. It was a great read--I can't wait to see what's next!

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  10. This book sounds like it would be right up my alley. I will have to put it on my "To Be Read" list (which is huge!) Women in my running club also have a book club. It's the most fun book club I have ever been in. The name of the club says it all - Reading Between the Wines! :)

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  11. I love books like this! Born to Run by McDougall is one of my favorites. Thanks for mentioning the Netflix movie too.

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    1. There are actually quite a few good ultra documentaries--I'll be putting a post together about that soon!

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  12. I'll have to share this title with my husband's uncle. He's a huge fan of hiking the A-trail, but I'm sure would appreciate reading about running on the trail.

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    1. This is just an incredible journey. I know of a few people who've hiked it. Crazy to think about all the history.

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  13. I've never heard of this book but I'm definitely going to have to pick it up! I really want to hike the AT someday! :P I'm gonna see if I can find an audiobook version of this so I can listen to it on my way to/from work! :P

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    1. I don't know if I'd want to hike the entire AT but their are parts I'd love to visit.

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  14. Very cool adventure! It's great to learn he's a nice guy too. I think I tend to assume elites are snooty.

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    1. I think in the ultra world that's a whole different thing!

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  15. I am intrigued with all stories from the AT!!!! Thanks for linking up.

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  16. I've been meaning to buy this book so thanks for the link! I wanted to cheer Scott along as he ran past, but we had something else going on (can't remember what it was now). I would have loved to have been there as he ran by, fallen into step behind him, and followed along until he gradually faded in the distance as I couldn't begin to keep up! ;-)

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    1. He would have been happy to have your company--sounds like a lot of people ran with him for part of the journey.

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