F SOMEONE HAD told a young
Scott Jurek that he would grow
up to become one of the most
accomplished ultradistance run-
ners in the world, he would have
laughed. Growing up in rural
“As a kid, running was something you did
for punishment,” he says, laughing. “You know,
run an extra lap.”
Jurek, a Costco member, recalls, “My coach
said to do something over the summer to train.
I couldn’t afford a bike or roller skis, so I just
started to run.” What started as a mile-and-a-
half jog steadily increased in mileage and
speed for the high school sophomore. The
exercise was gratifying: The farther he ran, the
faster he became on his skis.
In college, Jurek continued to run only
casually, until a buddy, Dusty Olson, suggested
that his speed and endurance on the slopes
could translate to pavement. Olson dared Jurek,
who had run one marathon previously, to run a
50-mile race with him. Jurek took the dare.
At the age of 20, he entered the Minnesota
Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon with
Olson. It was Jurek’s first experience with
ultras, races that cover any distance greater
than a marathon. He came in second. “I started
to realize not only how much fun [running]
was, but that I was able to put myself out there
and accomplish something that initially
seemed impossible,” says Jurek.
Two years later, he won that very same
race. From there, he has gone on to win and set
records at most of the world’s prestigious ultradistance races, including the Spartathlon and
seven straight wins of the Western States 100-
Mile Endurance Run.
“Scott accomplished what no one else
will,” says ultrarunning historian Buzz Burrell.
“He wasn’t the most talented guy out there.
But he studied really hard. He trained really
hard. He has his brain, his heart and his gut in
[the sport], and that’s why he’s respected.”
Jurek did not set out to obtain the notoriety
running has brought him. Running, to him, has
always been about testing his own limits and
experiencing nature. “I spent a lot of time in the
woods as a kid, hunting and fishing, connecting
to wild places. Running has been this vehicle to
get out into the wilderness. It gets me out
exploring places I might not otherwise see.
Preserving that connection has been important,” he says. He admits that very little money
comes with winning races, yet he doesn’t plan
to stop anytime soon.
“I never thought I’d be running for sport
or for fun. What I do is out of the norm now-
adays. Ultrarunning, while it seems crazy, it’s
an extension of those survival instincts peo-
ple have,” he says, reflecting on how society
has largely moved away from the sustained
labor required by hunting-and-gathering and
agrarian lifestyles. “Nowadays we live pretty
comfortably. Ultrarunning gives me a taste of
what it was like to survive years ago. We’re all
a little crazy, do things that seem out of the
norm. I think that’s a good thing.”
Jurek’s incredible determination and
endurance are chronicled in Christopher
McDougall’s best-seller, Born to Run (Vintage;
2011, not available at Costco), which brought
international attention to both Jurek and ultra-
running. In his own memoir, Eat & Run (scott
jurek.com), co-authored by Steve Friedman,
Jurek writes about how his lifestyle, specifically
exercise and diet, has influenced his career.
Twenty years after that first ultramarathon
entry, Jurek, 40, sits across from me in a bakery
at the base of the mountain trails he trains on in
Boulder, Colorado. He’s wearing running gear,
and dipping a spoon into a bowl of cooling oatmeal. Jurek has broad shoulders and a broad
smile. The long hair of his early running years, a
good-luck charm, is now a mass of short curls.
Standing tall at 6 feet 2 inches, Jurek doesn’t look
like a typical runner. Then again, typical is not
really a word associated with this man.
“I grew up with a mother who was a home
ec teacher. For me, cooking was just part of the
daily routine. It instilled in me an early drive
to make that a priority,” says Jurek, who
learned, through cooking, to reduce his fast-
runner Scott Jurek
takes it to the limit,
By Julie Hagy
“Ultrarunning, while it seems crazy, it’s an extension of those survival
instincts people have.”—Scott Jurek