Earlier this year I ran a marathon and over a year ago I switched from a vegetarian diet to a Vegan one. I doubt neither of these life-enhancing experiences would have happened if it hadn’t been for me discovering Scott Jurek’s story through the Book Born to Run then his own running memoir Eat and Run.
For the uninitiated, Scott is one of the most successful ultramarathon runners of all time. He won the Great Western States 100 race 7-times consecutively between 1999 and 2005 and has scooped victories at the Hardrock 100 and the Badwater ultramarathon race through Death Valley.
Recently I was delighted to be given the opportunity to interview Scott. In the interview below we explore his career, training, experiences on the trail, adopting a plant based lifestyle and what the future holds for Scott as he nears the end of this competitive racing career.
Interview with Scott Jurek:
Damien: Having recently visited the UK on a couple of occasions, what are you thoughts on the UK running scene/culture and how does that differ from in the United States?
Scott Jurek: The UK running scene is alive and well, there are a lot of similarities. The big difference is the running club organization in the UK. In the US, we aren’t as connected to our running clubs. The fell running scene is very unique, it’s cool to see they’ve still kept the traditional low-key atmosphere after all these years. The ultra scene still needs to catch up in the UK. It is a lot more popular in the US.
Damien: Scott you were a massive inspiration to me when rediscovering running. I remember you mentioning that Chuck Jones was your ultramarathon hero. Out of the other current crop of ultra runners who do you think is doing interesting stuff and why?
Scott Jurek: Kilian Jornet, enough said. In the UK it was a real pleasure to run with Rickey Lightfoot and he has some interesting things on the horizon.
Damien: In your book you talked about when you realised ‘what we eat is a matter of life and death. Food is who we are’. I strongly believe this also but find it hard/upsetting that people around me choose to eat rubbish. Do you try to convince friends and family to follow a vegan diet or just let them look at the example you set through your running and the life you lead?
Scott Jurek: I try to lead by example and use a soft-sell approach, I feel it’s most effective when you impress them with a good meal and show them how tasty yet simple the food can be.
Damien: In 2011 my Dad passed away from Motor Neurone Disease, I know you also sadly lost your Mum to a neurological disease Multiple Sclerosis. Not much is known about the causes of MND or MS. I believe quite strongly that eating a plant based vegan diet gives me a better chance of staying healthy. What are your thoughts on this? Why do you think our society is so resistant to the idea of eating plant based?
Scott Jurek: With neurological diseases there is more discussion about diet and the impact it can have on maintaining health in the nervous system. The most important aspects of diet for the nervous system appear to be getting healthy fats and essential fatty acids, and an anti-inflammatory diet. I just think traditions and years of cultural habits are hard to break. We have a lot of mixed messages in media and diet always seems to be confusing because there is always a new fad diet claiming to be the answer. Also, our health and dietetic organizations tend to change their viewpoints frequently so the consistency is not there. I don’t think we put the energy and effort into food preparation and seem disconnected to healthy habits with all the fast food and convenience eating.
Damien: Having been Vegan since 1999, during this time you will have witnessed a massive rise in the popularity of a Vegan lifestyle. Do you think retailers especially supermarkets and restaurants are doing enough to cater for those people who follow a plant based diet?
Scott Jurek: The key to eating a plant based diet is preparing your own food as much as possible and that can be done at any grocery store or supermarket. It’s definitely get- ting easier to eat out at restaurants and grocers have been adding more plant based food options. It’s a good time to be vegan!
Damien: When your body shuts down, like mine did in my recent marathon. How can runners empty their mind like you do with your bushido technique?
Scott Jurek: The best advice I have is to focus on the present moment, focusing on your breath, your running form, and sometimes the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.
Damien: I love running with my friends’ Dog Watson. I remember reading about your dog Tonto, do have a new dog you run with?
Scott Jurek: No current canine training partner, unfortunately. With my travel schedule the last couple years it hasn’t seemed fair to leave a pup at home.
Damien: What is your favourite on the go snack?
Scott Jurek: Clif Bar Kit’s Organic Bars are my go to. They are organic with simple whole food ingredients. I also like packing organic frozen burritos that thaw out while I’m in the mountains
Damien: Where do you seeing running especially ultrarunning going in the future? Do you see it becoming more mainstream and if so how will this impact the sport?
Scott Jurek: Ultrarunning is definitely going more mainstream and is growing in popularity. Unfortunately growing pains accompany this growth, we are seeing more races fill up quicker due to land use permits. I think we might see more ultras take to the roads and other places that can accommodate more runners on the race course. Prize money seems to be increasing and with that we might see more elite road runners enter the ultra scene. At the heart, I feel like the sport is going to remain the same, it’s really about the personal journey.
Damien: Having just turned 40, do you think your approach to running has changed much over the years? If so, what has been biggest change you have made and how has this helped you?
Scott Jurek: I don’t know if I’ve really changed anything. I just always try to keep a healthy attitude, making sure that I’m enjoying what I’m doing and staying motivated with new adventures. For me, I feel it’s important to keep learning and keep exploring no matter what level of performance my body is at.
Damien: You said last year that this year will be your last year of racing. Is that still the plan? If so, when are you racing next and what do you hope to achieve in these races?
Scott Jurek: Next year will be my last year of racing, I still want to do one more 24 hour race. I’d like to get the American Record back and take a crack at the World Record. I also have a bunch of long trail adventure runs that I’ve always told myself I’d do at the end of my career, I’m really looking forward to those.
Damien: What would be your tips for someone wanting to take up running?
Scott Jurek: Staying motivated is key so run with a running partner once or twice a week, maybe even a pet. Run with people who are faster than you, run with people who are slower than you, connect with a running club, and set some small goals to focus on.
Damien: Do you have any running dreams you still wish to pursue?
Scott Jurek: I’d love to have a world record.
Damien: Do you ever listen to music whilst running, if so who are you favourite band?
Scott Jurek: Most of the time I don’t, but during 24 races I do. My playlist runs the gamut from Krishna Das to Rage Against the Machine depending on my mood.
Damien:What is the strangest most fascinating thing you have seen whilst out running trails?
Scott Jurek: It is hard to pick one fascinating thing that has happened to me while out on the trails. Each run has a magic of its own.
I would like to thank Scott and Jenny Jurek for making this interview happen and I urge you to read Scott’s book Eat & Run and the ultramarathon bible Born to Run in which Scott features. These books changed my life helping me unlock a happier, fitter version of myself, I hope they will help you in the same way.
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