Wednesday night I got to meet and run with one of my running idols, Scott Jurek. He is touring to promote his new book, Eat and Run, which I reviewed in a previous post. For all you non-ultrarunners out there, let me try to explain how significant this was for me. If you are a road runner, think meeting, say Bill Rodgers. If you are a golfer, think Tiger Woods. And for my totally non-running friends, well, just think meeting Elvis. For me, it was a big deal.
Meeting an idol is a tricky thing. On the one hand, it is exciting (Hey, I am meeting Scot Jurek!!), but on the other it carries with it some perils. What if the person turns out to be not as idol-like as you had hoped? What if the person turns out in some way to be a jerk? In Scott Jurek's case, not to worry.
My initial impression of him, as he stepped out to address the crowd gathered for the fun run 5k at Playmakers, was "Dang, he is a lot taller than I had imagined." I think he had mentioned that in his book, but I was still surprised. I am thinking he is easily over 6 ft., but then again, I am small, so anyone over 5'7" is tall. The next impression I had was of how down-to-earth he seemed. After a few pre-race introductions, we posed for a group picture. Someone suggested that he lie on the ground in front of the group. Although the pavement was undoubtedly quite hot (it was in the 90s), he only hesitated for a half beat before he gamely stretched out in front of us on the ground for a series of pictures, still with a genuine smile on his face.
During the run he did something that I thought was super-thoughtful. He started at the beginning and went out with the leaders, giving the group a chance to spread out. Then he turned around and ran back through the crowd of runners, taking time to greet and talk to every runner, smiling the whole way, sometimes even posing for pictures. I was running with my friend Jessica. When he got to us, he even suggested the best way for Jessica to get the picture of the two of us running.
Back at the store, after the run, he spent a lot of time, just mingling and talking to people. He was so accessible to anyone who wanted his time. He must have posed for over a hundred pictures and never stopped smiling. He has a natural grace and thoughtfulness about him that seems to come through in every interaction.
Finally (the run was at 7 and the talk at 8:30), we all milled into Playmakers, where it was wonderfully cool, to wait for his presentation. There was a group of probably close to 300. It was an interesting collection of people, as was evidenced in the Q/A session following the talk. Some people were there because they were ultrarunners who were fully aware of Scott and his achievements. Then there were the road runners and beginning runners who may or may not have been familiar with his running resume. Some knew of him because of his appearance in the book Born to Run. Others were local vegans and vegetarians (some who were also runners) who were there because of their interest in his choice to follow that lifestyle as an athlete.
He began the presentation with a short video that told a little about him. It was a longer version of the book promo video that I had posted with the book review. It was no doubt helpful for those who did not know his history and background and who had not yet read the book.
He began by telling us how glad he was to be back at Playmakers, which he quipped is the "Bass Pro Shop of Running Stores." Then he thanked everyone for helping make his book #7 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. Next he discussed Micah True (Caballo Blanco) from Born to Run, who had just died a few months ago. He told about going down to help search and referred the audience to the great New York Times article that I had mentioned in my follow-up post on True's death. Then, rather than taking a moment of silence, which he said was not True's style at all, he led us in his famous celebratory yell that he does at the start of every race he runs.
His presentation was short because he said he did not want to rehash stories from the book. Instead he opened the floor to questions and answers from the audience, so he could talk about the things we might want to know. As mentioned before, the questions reflected the interests of the audience, everything from questions about training, hydration, and electrolytes to questions about how he makes it through the long runs mentally, to questions regarding his vegan lifestyle and habits. He answered each one fully, patiently, and with a sense of humor. He also answered many questions by referring the audience to articles that he had written in case they wanted a longer or more detailed version of the answer.
He ended the talk by mentioning some of the charity work he is involved with. He gave information about supporting the Caballo Blanco Memorial Fund to help continue the work that True was doing for the Tarahumara in Copper Canyon. He also mentioned some charity work he is involved in helping get eye surgery for Ethopians. To help raise money for this, he had some very cool shirts for sale at the event and promised there would be more available on his site in the future. He mentioned that although his visit at Playmakers was a free one, many of his appearances are not and that the funds being raised are being donated to the charities that he believes in.
At the end of the event, he did the obligatory book signing that comes with this type of tour. This is another spot where his incredible patience, good nature, and thoughtfulness again shone through. It was already after 9:30 when the talk ended. The line for the book signing very quickly snaked down one side of the store, across the front, and back up the other side of. As we all waited in line, he popped out several times to remind us of things he had forgotten to say in the talk, but also once to assure everyone that he would stay until the very last book had been signed. That was pretty gracious considering he still had to drive back to Grand Rapids when the event was over.
When signing time came, he took the time to again greet each person individually and to pose for yet another picture. You could tell he really wanted everyone that had come to see him to be happy. When I left, somewhere around 10:15, he was still signing. We took a quick trip over to Taco Bell for a few bean and cheese burritos, and when we drove back past Playmakers, well after 10:30, you could see him through the window, still in their signing.
For me, this was a really great experience. His personality is even more engaging in person than it is in the book, and I have even more respect for him, not only as one of the best ultrarunners of all time but also as an outstanding human being. If you get the chance to head out to one of his events to meet him, I highly recommend that you do so. His book tour schedule is listed on his site at http://scottjurek.com/eatandrun/events/. And, if you have not yet read his book, what are you waiting for?