Friday, June 8, 2012

Book Review: Scott Jurek's Eat and Run


"We strive toward a goal, and whether we achieve it or not is important, but it's not what's most important. What matters is how we move toward the goal. What's crucial is the step we're taking now, the step you're taking now."  Scott Jurek, Eat and Run


I love books about running. Several shelves in my book cases are devoted to my fairly extensive collection of running books.  On those shelves are many that I have read multiple times and that are like old friends. In those books, especially the memoirs and biographies, I often find things I can relate to and stories that inspire, but there is no book on my shelves right now that has had more impact than the one I have just finished reading. I am referring to Scott Jurek's new book , Eat and Run, which was just released this past Tuesday.  
Many times I have tried to explain, either to my road running friends or to non-runners, why I love trail running and ultras. This book expresses it so eloquently. If anyone wants to really understand the heart and soul of ultrarunning, it is all here in this wonderful book.

Those of you who have read Born to Run, may already be familiar with Scott Jurek. If you are not, let me give you a quick bio from his web site

Scott Jurek's outstanding competitive resume includes victories in nearly all of ultrarunning's elite trail and road events, including the historic 153-mile Spartathlon, the Hardrock 100, the Badwater 135-mile Ultramarathon, the Miwok 100K, and—his signature race—the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, which he won a record seven straight times. The Washington Times named him one of the top runners of the decade, Runner's World awarded him a Hero of Running and Ultrarunning Magazine named him Ultra-Runner of the Year three times. In 2010, he set a new US all-surface record in the 24-Hour Run with 165.7 miles—6.5 marathons in one day—for which he was named USA Today's Athlete of the Week.

Scott is a truly amazing endurance athlete and has been one of my running heroes since I first saw him in the Race for the Soul video that I told you about in an earlier post

Although I had pre-ordered a copy of the book from Amazon, I could not wait for it to arrive. I drove down to my local Barnes and Noble and bought the only copy in the store. I thanked my lucky stars there was one available and headed home. I was already anticipating a good read because I had read (and loved) the excerpt from it printed in Trail Runner magazine, called "The Wisdom of Hippie Dan."  Expectations were high, but the book exceeded them in all areas.

First let me give you the basics about the book.  The book is a memoir of Jurek's life from childhood and his beginnings as a runner, through his climb to ultramarathon greatness, to the present. However, it is not just about running. Scott's approach to life is thoughtful and holistic, and thus his story is as well. The book is as much about nutrition and spirituality (his becoming a vegan and searching for a better understanding of himself and life in general) as it is about running, as these three things are the essential essence of who he is -- it would be impossible to look at running in his life without also looking at these other things.  At the end of the chapters, which mostly focus on the running, there is a section of training tips and a vegetarian recipe for any readers who may be interested in exploring that area.

This book will not just appeal to runners and ultrarunners. There is something in this book for everyone who has ever strived and questioned, been the underdog, doubted themselves, dealt with adversity, decided to live more deliberately, attempted to live with integrity by bringing action in tune with principles, and searched for one's limits. If there is any doubt that a non-runner could enjoy the book, let me tell you this. I started to read a portion of the first chapter to my husband, who has never run a step in his life (unless someone was chasing him). He was so interested that I ended up reading the entire book aloud to him because he didn't want to wait for me to finish it so that he could read it himself. He loved it as much as I did.

Why?  (I smile as I start the paragraph this way because "why?" is a question that Scott never stopped asking throughout the book.) What makes the book and the story so captivating? Well first, Scott is a person that many people will be able to relate to on several levels.

Scott is an underdog of sorts who overcame and achieved. His childhood was difficult. His mother was ill, diagnosed with MS at an early age, when Scott was quite young. His childhood and adolescence was full of worry, working and caring for his siblings and his ailing mother. His father was hardworking but stoic. Scott was the "Pee Wee," the wimp, the picked on kid, the sidekick to the natural jock.  To watch the transformation of this unlikely athlete into a world class champion is incredibly inspiring and gives hope to all of us that anyone can accomplish great things if they approach them carefully, with passion, perseverance, and determination.  His father's advice, which is a key mantra in Scott's life, "Sometimes you just do things," will be something that will no doubt pop into every reader's head at some point in the future when things get tough in running or in life.

A second thing that I love about the book is his honesty on so many levels. He is honest about his failures and shortcomings. He could have packed the book with the stories of only his successes, but he also talks about his failures, the races he didn't win or sometimes didn't complete, and the times he struggled physically and mentally. He talks about the ambivalence of the situation with his family, his moments of selfishness, and his moments of questioning and self-doubt in an honest way that has to be respected.

I also love the balance he continually seeks between being a spiritual person and being a competitive athlete. He will be poetically describing the beauty of the Colorado Rockies one minute and the next be discussing his strategy for turning out his headlamp to trick his competitors in an effort to win the race. One moment he is appreciating the simple grace of the Greek people and the next running like hell as he passes a competitor to demoralize him and discourage a counter-attack.

This is something that many trail and ultrarunners can surely relate to. We love the spirituality of the experience, but it is a race. If we were only interested in the spirituality, we would run the trails and not venture into the race situation.  He does such an outstanding job of showing how the appreciation for the beauty, the reflection on the meaning, and the competitive aspect can all flow in and out of each other as part of the total experience.  

Another fascinating aspect of the book is watching the evolution of Scott's desire to live deliberately.  He is very Thoreau-like in his approach to life, which is how the vegetarian/vegan aspect comes into play. Part of his quest to live more deliberately and also to excel as a runner led him to a concern with what he was putting into his body. This led him to his decisions to become vegetarian and later vegan, which is something that he believes in passionately. Again, the honesty comes into play here. He is honest about his evolution to the full vegan he is today. He talks about how in the early stages of his transformation, he would sometimes still stop at McDonald's for chicken sandwiches or sausage and egg biscuits.  He recognizes that we may not all desire to switch to a vegan lifestyle, but he does invite us all to think a bit more carefully about what we decide to put into our bodies and the effect this has on our lives. 

If you have ever considered making changes to your diet, Scott's book will definitely be an inspiration.  I had actually been contemplating this idea for several months, and just the Hippie Dan excerpt had been enough to convince me to give it a try. I have been almost meat free for the past month (with just a few exceptions -- we need to empty the freezer). I can't wait to try some of the recipes that Scott has provided in the book.  (I will be reporting back on my progress on this plant-based athlete thing over the next few months.) 

 Finally, I love the relationship in the book between Scott and his friend Dusty. I have always been a sucker for the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style guy friendships, and their unlikely and quirky friendship was a high point of the book for me.

I guarantee you that you will not be disappointed by this book. If I could choose only one running book to have with me on a desert island, this would be the one.

If you are still in doubt about whether you might want to read the book, check out this video promo:

I am so passionate about this book that I have decided to have this as my June giveaway. (That extra copy I ordered came in handy!)  Click here to visit the Through a Running Lens Facebook page for details on how to enter. Contest end Friday, June 15th.

This is a good thing for my Michigan audience because Scott will be appearing in Lansing on June 20th at Playmakers and in Grand Rapids on June 21st to promote the book.  For out of state readers, here is a list of scheduled appearances
  • 6/5: New York
  • 6/6: Boston
  • 6/7: Chicago
  • 6/8: Washington DC
  • 6/11: Portland
  • 6/12: Seattle
  • 6/13: San Francisco
  • 6/14: Boulder
  • 6/15: Los Angeles
  • 6/16: San Diego
  • 6/18: Austin
  • 6/19: Minneapolis
  • 6/20: East Lansing
  • 6/21: Grand Rapids
  • 6/22: Seattle
  • 6/24: Denver

(P.S. If you do decide to order the book from Amazon, I would be very grateful if you remembered to click through one of the links to the book on this site.)


  1. Sounds like a great book. It will definitely go on my list to read!

  2. Janet,
    I am sure you will like it, especially since I know how concerned you are with diet and how it affects your running and life. It really is good. Are you going to go to see him at Playmakers?

    Don't forget to sign up for the giveaway!


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