“An ultrarunner’s mind is what matters more than anything.”

I was intrigued to read more about ultrarunning, from an accomplished racer. Many people think that running a marathon is a mammoth achievement. But that’s only 26.2 miles. Ultrarunners do 50k runs, they do 50 mile races, they go head-to-head in competitions that span 100 miles….and more. And they even compete against each other in 24 hour races – round and round a track for 24 hours. 

As a (very) amateur runner, I was curious to read about ultrarunning. However, Scott Jurek isn’t just a jock with a few good stories from the road, he opens up his heart in Eat and Run, and he lets his readers see his inner wounds. The reader truly takes a journey through the entirety of Scott’s life, from his ailing, dying mother and his distant and demanding father to divorce and the suicide of a dear friend.

His story is similar to many professional cyclists, from what I have read. Cyclists have often faced a good bit of personal adversity, particularly when they are young. They develop a deep strength of will, to endure suffering, like an iron-will, something inside that will never let them quit. It seems similar across the board, with all endurance athletes. As Scott puts it, citing an anonymous quote, “You’ll never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

The is also about food. All of Scott’s accomplishments were made with a vegan diet. That’s right. No dairy, no meat. All vegan. In fact, it will startle some readers to hear Scott say that he credits his vegan diet for fueling his many race victories. Between all the advice on running, the book is packed with helpful ideas on how to fuel with vegan power.

Many critics and thinkers have talked about how “American” the subject matter of the road is. We are a people of travel. Of pioneers, of travel, of summer vacations and road trips, and of discovery. We often find ourselves in the journey, in the unknown. Scott’s life as an ultrarunner strikes me as a deeply authentic version of the American story, a narrative of pushing one’s self to the absolute limit in the places where few people set foot. Ken Burns, take note. A documentary film on American ultrarunning should be in your que.

Scott is also a seeker, of a philosophical, psychological, and spiritual nature. His book reflects a deep engagement with writers who great thinkers who speak about the depth and richness of life. He talks about going into a very Zen-like frame of mind. What the Tao Te Ching calls “doing, not doing.” It’s that sense that artists have, where they feel like the poem is writing the poem, like the art is coming from somewhere outside of themselves in such a way that they are merely the instrument being played by the greater cosmos.

Scott’s interest in these deeper reflections comes from his fascination with the mind. It is the will, the discipline of the mind, that takes an ordinary person into the extraordinary. Scott does not claim to be an exceptional athlete, only to have accomplished exceptional feats by power of the will. While his career is clearly a thorough study of physiology, it is psychology that is the real game changer. “As powerful as our legs are, as magnificent as our lungs and arms and muscles are, nothing matters more than the mind.”

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