A runner is a runner is a runner? Maybe, maybe not. Not all runners are created equal, and wherever one runner stops another picks up. When sprinters stop, middle distance takes over, where middle distance (and most people) peter out, marathoners are happy to press on, where they stop, in step the ultra folks: people who run for 24 hours straight, hundred plus miles in one go, who eat without breaking stride, people who vomit and keep running. Some call it the ultimate endurance test, and how could you tell them they're wrong?
(My one experience with distance running was a 35k - roughly 20 miles - which took me well over 3 hours to complete and when I finally finished I wept like a baby, which apparently isn't all that out of place.)
Scott Jurek came onto the ultra scene in the early 90s and has been a benchmark for all American runners since. His recently published book, Eat & Run, details his journey, physical and mental, into the depths of one of the craziest sports the world has to offer. It also addresses his plant-based diet. Below are a few lessons I came across while reading the book.
Sometimes you just do things
Countless times throughout the book Jurek references his Midwestern upbringing, using the mantra given him by his physically present, emotionally distant father, “Sometimes you just do things,” to carry him through the many jobs he must take on growing up in a family of five, with a mother suffering from MS. This "keep on" attitude forms the foundation of mental toughness that pushes Jurek to tackle the ultra running community.
A teen with boundless energy, he finds a well of inspiration in this phrase. Why keep running when all other people have stopped? Why train harder and longer in a sport that, at the time didn’t have half the support it has today (and even today it’s not all that much compared to any other sport)? To win? Sure, competitiveness pops up all the time in Jurek’s book. But more often is the hard-nosed stubbornness embodied by the mantra: sometimes you just do things. This stubbornness is a must to run and train for ultras. (And training, for anyone looking to pick up the sport, is intense. Think 3 plus hours per day on the move.) As Jurek hammers home the longest races have just as much to do with mental toughness as they do with physical toughness - probably even more so.
You need other people
You'd think ultra-running would be an individual sport, or at least I did and I was wildly wrong. Yes the distance is all traveled by one person, and that person must have crazy perseverance and the records end up under one name, but in reading Eat & Run I was impressed by how many other people were involved.
Most runners, Jurek included, have teams of people along for support, to carry food and water, for encouragement, or pacers to run alongside them for portions of the race. A pacer is like an accountability partner, encouraging you when you want to quit and running beside you through the latter parts of races. This doesn't include the scores of volunteers at the various stations most marathons and ultras have at their checkpoints and the officials at the beginnings and finishes of races. And Jurek constantly speaks of the many many people who he has trained with, who have provided him with inspiration, or even just a body to run with and talk to (when not completely out of breath).
Within the simplicity of running, Jurek finds a beautiful focus, a mindfulness. The term satori represents an almost meditative, mindful clarity that comes from complete concentration on the task at hand. It’s something that sounds simple and is very hard, especially in our increasingly distracting world. (Even as I write this I’m pausing between sentences to spoon soup into my mouth.)
If you're an athlete and you're fortunate enough, you've felt it. Being 'in the zone,' tasting satori - the sudden, Zen-like clarity that comes when you least expect it, often when your body is pushed to the limit... Satori can be sought, but it cannot be held. A few strides after an epic feeling of bliss, I'll get an ache in my knees, or the urge to pee or I'll start worrying about how the person I’m chasing down is feeling… What matters is the place of effortlessness, of selflessness. There might be many paths to that magical region - prayer and meditation come to mind… I know people who get there on a 5-mile jog or by mindfully chopping a carrot.
Conclusion (and a recipe)
After running more than 165 miles in 24 hours, Jurek talks about what he’ll do next: Rest. Then eat. Then run again. Simple repetition. Jurek finishes the book with a Buddhist adage: “Teachers advise pilgrims to chop wood and carry water until they encounter blinding, transformational epiphany. After that moment of electric bliss, the teachers say chop more wood and carry more water.” For Jurek, the future isn’t half as important as the present. What’s truly crucial is the step you’re taking now.
(This article wouldn’t be complete without a recipe from the many Jurek provides throughout the book. As a vegan, he strongly believes in a healthy, plant-based diet. Here’s one of my favorites.)
vegetarian winter chili recipe
Jurek writes: "The night I tasted this chili is the night I decided I could be a happy, athletic vegetarian. One mouthful made me realize that vegetarian food could taste just as good, and have just as hearty a texture, as meat-based foods. The burger wheat is a source of complex carbohydrates, and combined with the other ingredients, it makes a complex protein. There's nothing like it after exercise, especially on a cold winter night. "
2 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup finely chopped onion
8–10 medium mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1 jalapeño pepper or other hot pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons chili powder, or to taste
2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato purée
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
1 15-ounce can red beans, drained
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dry bulgur wheat
Hot sauce or cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro, for garnish
Tofutti sour cream, for garnish (optional)
Add the oil to a large pot. Sauté the vegetables and spices in the oil over medium to medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until tender. Add a few tablespoons of water if the veggies begin sticking to the pot.
Add the remaining ingredients except the cilantro and simmer over medium-low heat, covered, for 30 minutes. Stir and simmer for an additional 20 to 30 minutes until the veggies are cooked through.
Season with salt and, if more spice is desired, hot sauce or cayenne pepper to taste. Serve sprinked with the cilantro.
Tip: Leftover chili freezes well.
-3 Lessons from ultrarunner
-Role Model: Search Local
-How to Sleep in Your Car
-How to Hitchhike: Advice
-How to Adjust a Backpack
-How to Hitchhike Safely
-Dustin: Hitchhiker *video
- Zach at Niagara Falls *video
-NYC Interview *video
-Trouble Crossing * video
-Iron John Journey *video
-Letter From a Viewer
-Ibn Battuta: Exploreer
-Danny Schmidt/Carrie Elkin
-Top 5 Famous Hitchhikers
-Hitchhiking:Trip at a Glance
-3 Things Lionel Said
-Radio Interview: WEHC
-Adventure: Idea to Action
-Miller's Gourmet Popcorn *
-Poem from a fan
Darrell and Josiah