I first read about Scott Jurek in Christopher McDougall’s book “BORN TO RUN”.
Scott and a few other American ultra runners were invited by Caballo Blanco to participate in an epic 50-mile race with the Tarahumara (‘the greatest runners on earth”) in the Copper Canyon of Mexico. Since then, I got know more about the running accomplishments of the “Jurker”:
· Starting in 1999 as a complete unknown from Minnesota , he won 7 years in a row the Western States Endurance Run , a 100-mile traverse over the old Gold Rush trails of the California Sierra Nevada.
· Twice won the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile trek through Death Valley.
· Set an American record of 165.7 miles in 24 hours.
In his book with Steve Friedman, entitled “EAT & RUN”, Scott talks about his life and career. Aside from his running achievements, I learned two more extraordinary things about him: He graduated valedictorian in high school and has a plant-based diet. The first one I could relate to, the second one I cannot most definitely. In any case, his book is, to my mind, a must read for runners of all ages and distances.
Here are a few direct quotes from the book to wet your appetite:
On Landing Zone:
“In an ideal world, all runners would land on their forefoot or midfoot when they run. In an ideal world, though, all runners would be lean, healthy..... There’s no question that forefoot striking is more efficient than heel striking. It uses the elasticity of the Achilles tendon and the arch of the foot to translate the body’s downward force into forward motion. Less energy is lost to the ground. It’s also a given that landing on the forefoot, as barefoot runners do, prevent the heel striking that cushioned shoes enable, which can lead to so many joint and tendon injuries.
But it’s also true that it’s not a perfect world. Beginners run. Out-of-shape people run. And for them forefoot striking might increase the risk of tendonitis or other soft tissue injury.
Most researchers would say that a midfoot landing is the most efficient....But there are people who fall on both ends of the spectrum...
What’s important isn’t what part of the foot you strike but where it strikes. It should land slightly in front of your center of mass or right underneath. When you have a high stride rate and land with the body centered over the foot, you won’t be slamming down hard, even if you connect with the heel.”
On Uphill running:
“The trick to uphill racing wasn’t so much sheer force as it was turnover. In cycling, the smart (and fast) racer shifts into an easier gear when he hits the inclines but maintains his pedal revolution per minute. Mocked in mountain biking as a “granny gear,” the faster gear turned out to be the key to championships. So I looked for my own running “granny gear.” I found that by shortening my stride I could “spin,” maintaining the ideal turnover of 180 foot strikes per minute. Downhill, I lengthened my stride but stayed light on my feet, and I kept the same 180 footfalls-a-minute pace.”
“The wonderful thing about ultramarathonsis that, no matter how awful things get, how searing the pain you’re in , there’s always a chance to redeem yourself.
In some ways, an ultra isn’t even as hard as a marathon. My heart rate was lower and my lungs were less taxed than they would have been during a shorter, faster race...The time spent training had sparked adaptations such as an increased network of capillaries, bigger energy-producing mitochondria, and elevated levels of the enzyme 2, 3-diphosphoglycerate to help oxygen reach my tissue. The body’s ability to adapt is truly astounding. That’s why i say that, with the right training and support, anyone can do an ultra.”
On Why Top Marathoners are not keen on Ultramarathons:
“...there’s a reason why top marathoners aren’t flocking to the sport, and it’s not just the lack cash and prizes. Although the pace of an ultra is slower, maintaining that effort for hours and hours can leave the best of us huddled at the side of the road, dry heaving. For one thing, there’s the cumulative loading of muscles and bones. Every time the foot hits the ground, the quadriceps and calf muscles have to lengthen to absorb the shock of the impact, and that adds up when you go a hundred miles, whether you’re barefoot or in Brooks, running or walking, slapping your heel or landing on your toes. When you see runners shuffling across the finish line, it’s not because they’re too tired to push off, it’s because they’re too sore to land.
Even if you’re able to keep food down under these conditions, you’ll eventually hit the famous “wall” where the glycogen energy stores in your liver and muscles are depleted. In a marathon, the wall comes at the tail end of the race, but in an ultra, it’s not even at the midpoint and it happens many times. You’ll have to spend hours in the catabolic state where your body is forced to burn fat, protein, and even its own muscles to ensure adequate energy reaches to the brain.”
On the Tarahumara:
“The Tarahumara were immortalized in McDougall’s book “Born to Run” where he called them “super athletes.” I would quibble with that. I would say they were super efficient. They were just much, much more in tune with their bodies and surroundings. They know things we had forgotten, with all our stopwatches and sports foods and fancy running shoes... As humans, we were meant to move swiftly over the earth. We knew how to run.
It wasn’t barefoot running that made the Tarahumara great runners, though. (They wore huaraches.) Form is what matters in running.
With that last line, I could just imagine a Gabriela of a running buddy smiling, even snickering as we recall the mantra "Maintain your form."
I always say that running is part physical and part mental, and the longer distance we tackle, the more it becomes mental. Thus, it would not hurt if we get to exercise our mental side by reading more on books by runners and about running.
The book “EAT & RUN” by Scott Jurek is definitely a soul food for us runners, especially the ultrarunners.