Book Review: Scott Jurek's "Eat & Run"

Inspiration—and guac recipes—from the world's top ultrarunner

Eat and Run: My Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness
By Scott Jurek, with Steve Friedman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26

The book opens with a collapsed and seemingly defeated Jurek, 65 miles into the sizzling Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley. Dry heaving and lying in a cooler of ice, Jurek contemplates throwing in the towel while pacer and childhood friend Dusty Olsen screams in his face, “Do you want to be somebody, Jurker? Do you want to be somebody?” And the answer, it turns out, is yes. It's this ability—to dig deeper, to try harder—that transformed this “common as grass,” gawky Minnesotan into one of the most decorated ultrarunners of our time. Jurek is best known as the seven-time winner of the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, as well as a central personality in Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book Born to Run, and in this book his humble prose aims to convince the audience of the unlimited potential that’s in all of us.

For many ultrarunners, the drive to run for hours on end can come from a need to overcome personal battles. And, in a sense, the book itself becomes an ultramarathon for Jurek as he attempts to makes sense of the lessons drilled into him while coming of age in the backwoods of Duluth, Minnesota. Burdened and distraught by a tumultuous relationship with his father and a mother plagued by multiple sclerosis, Jurek is forced to grow up quickly. Though he can split wood and cook a pot roast by the age of 10, Jurek doesn’t come into his own until late in high school, largely due to his friendship with fellow skier and runner, Dusty Olsen. A central character and chief inspiration, it is Dusty’s punk hairdo, athletic talent, and “tough bastard” attitude that finally pull Jurek out of Minnesota and into the big bad world of ultrarunners.

Raised on classic mid-western food (walleye, local meats and plenty of McDonalds), Jurek credits much of his mental and physical transformation to his strict vegan diet. The book is sprinkled with alternative medicine, but Jurek’s vegan recipes are the most convincing. Made for the trail (see Chocolate Adzuki Bars) or a post-run snack (Holy Moly Guacamole), Jurek’s recipes will have even the most adamant carnivore drooling at the mouth.

First and foremost, the book is a gesture of appreciation to his fellow racers, coaches and family whose invaluable friendships have shaped Jurek’s success. Fans may be disappointed that very little of the book narrates Jurek’s time racing Mexico’s Tarahumara, highlighted in Born to Run, but we are quick to realize this race is one of many in his career riddled with eccentric characters and life-altering epiphanies. Jurek’s success has brought him all over the world—including the 152-mile Spartathalon in Greece, the famous Leadville 100 and France’s IAU World 24-Hour Championships—and he takes readers along for the wild ride, introducing them to friends such as Duluth local legend “Hippie Dan” Proctor, the tattooed Western States champ and recovering drug addict turned pre-school teacher Ben Hian, and famous base jumper and daredevil Dean Potter.

Jurek’s emotional and physical endurance is a reminder to us all that you can always dig a little deeper. At a fun run and book signing I attended, Jurek scrawled the words “Be Somebody!” in looping letters on the inside of my book jacket. That simple sentiment sort of sums up the book: There is always time to start living up to your potential.