Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Eat & Run" by Scott Jurek

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. Unless you are a big fan of Scott Jurek, I would consider borrowing this book before purchasing it. For those readers not familar with Jurek, he is an ultramarathon running legend. He has won the Western States 100 Mile race 7x, the Badwater 135 Mile race 2x, the Spartathalon 2x, the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon 1x (as popularized in "Born to Run"), the Minnesota Voyageur 3x, the Zane Grey 1x, the Bull Run 50 Mile 1x, the McDonald Forest 50K 1x, the Diez Vista 50K 2x, the Leona Divide 50 mile 4x, the Miwok 100K 3x, the Silvertip 50K 1x, the Diable 50 mile 1x, holds the US record for the 24 hour race and has placed in the top 5 of too many ultramarathons for me to count.

My chief criticism is that "Eat & Run" just scrapes the surface on many events in Jurek's life. Perhaps the title has both a figurative and literal meaning, never spending too much time on one thing. There are 21 chapters, but each chapter is only about 10 pages long. I think the book could have easily been twice as long given more character development and story telling. In the end, it felt like Jurek and cowriter Steve Friedman strung together a list of race reports.

Besides Jurek, the main character development throughout the book is about his life long friend Dusty Olson and his mom. Dusty is presented in chapter 1 with the greeting, "Get the fuck up!", in reference to Jurek lying down on the Badwater course. Early in Jurek's life, Dusty was a competitor to Jurek, but later, he became Jurek's #2 as he was a pacer in many of Jurek's ultramarathons. Their friendship seemed strained which probably was not helped by Dusty's insults and disparaging remarks towards Jurek, or as he called him, "The Jurker". At one point they stopped communicating altogether.

Jurek's mom had multiple sclerosis. This appeared to have a great influence on Jurek's path, to the extent that he became a physical therapist after assisting with his mom's physical therapy treatments. Maybe due to his mom's illness, Jurek had to do a lot of chores around the house, from cooking and cleaning to stacking firewood. His relationship with his mom was better than the one with his dad. His dad was the disciplinarian. If he asked why he had to do something, his dad would reply, "Sometimes, you just do things." This became Scott's mantra throughout his ultramarathons.

One character who received little description was his exwife Leah. He mentioned how they met in Minnesota and some of their early years living in her parent's basement, but there wasn't much introspection about how their relationship fell apart. On that matter, Jurek only said that Leah told him he wasn't funny or interesting, that they married too young and that she fell in love with another man and wanted a divorce. That was a pretty heavy blow in only a few short sentences.

To the casual observer on the internet, it would appear that Leah left Jurek for Ted McDonald, the barefoot runner whom Jurek befriended in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. The only mention of him in this book was in reference to the runners in the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, "A man named Ted McDonald, who called himself Barefoot Ted because he recently started jogging without shoes." From the internet, it's clear that Barefoot Ted went to Greece with Leah and Jurek for the Spartathalon 2007, just months before Leah and Jurek split. Jurek devotes a chapter to this race in his book, but there's no mention of the storm that had to be brewing between the three of them.

http://barefootted.com/2007/09/running-greece.html

Maybe I'm being a bit of a rubber necker here, but one of the theme's of Jurek's book is about how he had struggles in his life and how he overcame those struggles. A wife leaving you for a friend ranks pretty high for a struggle. I can only assume that Jurek is respecting their privacy or it is still too painful to analyze in too much detail. Or maybe I'm making too much of it. Sometimes shit happens and it doesn't matter who the names are.

"Eat & Run" ends with an epilogue about his record setting 24 hour run in France. I had the impression that this race was a redemption for him for both a personal and professional point of view. Personally, he spent his time in France content with his new girlfriend, Jenny. Professionally, he set a US record for a 24 hour run after a year of not winning any major achievements. He even transformed his mantra into, "This is what you came for." It was obviously the ending to his professional ultrarunning career as he stated that he had done what he set out to do and now it was time to rest.

My chief compliment to "Eat & Run" is that I appreciated Jurek's description of how he became vegan. The book was just as much about fuel for his runs as it was about how fast he ran. The book's title was fitting. He did go into considerable detail about how he fueled his runs, including recipes. It makes me wonder if this book will help popularize a plant based diet among runners.

In between reading chapters of "Eat & Run", I listened to a podcast interview of Dr. Timothy Noakes (http://www.thelivinlowcarbshow.com/shownotes/6413/588-south-african-running-legend-tim-noakes-embraces-high-fat-low-carb-living/). For those not familar with Dr. Noakes, he is the author of "Lore of Running", a well respected book on the science of running. In the podcast, Dr. Noakes explained his personal history with weight gain and how he lost weight on an Atkins low carb diet after reading an Atkins diet book and Gary Taubes' books. This is a huge reversal from his opinion (or scientific work) as described in "Lore of Running" on the running performance benefits from eating carbohydrates. Dr. Noakes even suggests for folks to rip out the nutrition section from his book, or if you wait, he is rewriting the book.

Dr. Noakes' view on a low carb diet for runners is the opposite of Jurek's carb-filled, plant based diet for training and racing and winning ultramarathons.What's interesting to me is that Jurek stated in his book that he reveres Dr. Noakes for his scientific work to explain endurance running, specifically in regards to the central governor theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_governor). I'd love to hear Jurek's thoughts on Dr Noakes' reversal on carbohydrates, or his reversal on hydrating in general (http://www.irunfar.com/2012/07/waterlogged-a-dogma-shattering-book.html).

6 comments:

  1. Im sorry to find that you couldn't understand the point of this book. I found it to be profound and touching. I understand Jurek's passion for running, not because of the sport itself, but because it is a testimony of how you help youself to understand your life, the good and the bad, the sweet and the tough moments, from relying on those talents you discover in yourself. I think he does a very honest description of his life's most difficult moments and how they've affected him: illness, weakness, friendship, love, and the unending quest for answers we all face. Wether he decides to be more explicit or not about his divorce, or Barefoot Ted, is his prerrogative, because then again, the book is not intended to be a hot gossip magazine, or did you think that was the whole point of the story?

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    1. I agree, I have read a few reviews questioning why he didn't go into the divorce more. why should he? I think it shows more what a great person he is not to be more bitter on the pages of his book.

      I loved reading about him.
      I think he is funny and interesting.
      I feel sad to think he was treated that way by his ex-wife

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  2. Regarding "hot gossip", Google says gossip is "casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about OTHER people, typically involving details that are NOT CONFIRMED as being true".

    How would it be gossip if Jurek gave more intraspection about the events of his marriage untangling as he saw them. He said that Leah said he wasn't funny, but what does Jurek think his role was in the marriage coming undone. Can the life of a competitive ultrarunner be too selfish. Is it a coincidence that his career appeared to be winding down when they split. Surely he has thought long and hard about this stuff, but didn't share much about it in the book. Jurek went into a lot of detail about how his relationship with his mother affected his life, lots of personal details about even how her illness embarassed him at times when he was young. Are we not to believe that his relationship with his wife Leah (now ex-wife) had a large effect on his adult life.

    As you say, it's his prerogotive; it's his book, it's my opinion.

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  3. I literally just finished reading the book this morning. I meant to read a couple chapters and then mow the lawn before it got too hot. Instead I kept going, even reading the final recipes. I think your review is spot on. I got my book at the library and I would give it 4 stars. I come from a family with journalists, so yeah, details are pretty important. It only took me 2 google searches to find out who his wife married and what she's doing now. I agree, that info should have been included. When I read a book, I want to know that the author is being straight with me. Overall for a "jock autobio", it is better than most. I am a runner and eat all the same foods he does (though not vegetarian now). So I liked all the vegan and recipe material.
    --David A

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  4. @ Anon, I found the book to be a quick read also, although I didn't finish it in a day because I kept Googling stuff as I went.

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  5. The book was about his running, lifestyle and life. He needn't exploit himself or his ex-wife for the reader to make it worthy. Certain personal matters of this world should remain private at the discretion of the individual. I respect him for honoring himself in that way. Money well spent to me.

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