Sunday, June 10, 2012

Scott Jurek's Eat & Run: ultra gusto!

I had quite a few running-related stories to share this week (my encounter with a rattle snake, National Running Day, 2 ultra long runs, a run in Monterey in a gorgeous weather and an opportunity to meet Sophia and Brian Robinson there) but I'll wait for the next post as I have a much bigger story to share. Two actually. First, Scott Jurek's long awaited book has been released last Tuesday and I received a preview copy 2 weeks ago allowing me to read it and post a short review here. Second, as a true ultra runner, Scott has embarked in a 2-week long book tour around the US and he stops by San Francisco this coming Wednesday (June 13)! Interestingly, there seems to be more people attending his book signing events than showing up at the races Scott competes in, these are the secrets of the media industry... ;-)
First, let me clarify something: for the past 2 years, based on some hints from Scott himself about his vegan diet, I thought he was working on a recipe book and, still reluctant to move to this diet with my lifestyle and hectic travels, I wasn't sure it was going to be for me. Well, while the book contains 25 of Scott's original recipes, this isn't a cooking book at all. It is a wonderful account of his 20-year and stellar journey into elite ultra running but more importantly on how Scott found greatness in his life and how we can all learn and use some of his wisdom in this area.

In 22 very well written episodes Scott convey the subtle balance between the joy and pain associated to ultra running, the balance between the physical and mental preparedness. Although one key of this balance has been for him to switch to a vegan diet, and that you may not be willing to go that far, the book is a great source of motivation and mental strength. Scott also shares many technical nuggets from his unmatched experience, running tips which cover breathing, posture, time management, pacing, dietetic (of course!), training plan, footwear, core training or stride form and cadence.

A few quotes which I particularly like:
  • "Racing ultras requires absolute confidence tempered with intense humility."
  • "Run until you can't run anymore. Then run some more. Find a new source of energy and will. Then run even faster."
  • "I run because overcoming the difficulties of an ultramarathon reminds me that I can overcome the difficulties of life, that overcoming difficulties was life."
But the paragraph which sums up Scott's inflection point the best comes in chapter 7 when he talks about his first major win back in the mid 90s: "I won the Voyageur on my third try, eating more plants and less meat. I didn't run harder. I had been right: I couldn't run harder. But I had learned something important. I could run smarter. I could eat smarter. I could live smarter. I knew I could keep going when others stopped. I knew I had good legs and good lungs. I wasn't just a runner now, I was a racer. And I was a mindful eater. How many races could I win with my newfound secret? I aimed to find out."

While you can have a look at how great Scott's racing career will turn out (e.g. in Wikipedia or, these words apply to anyone entering an ultra race and learning from the many lessons this sport has to offer, a sport that we often describes as a continuous life and human open lab experiment. An endeavor capable of changing you from the inside out as Christopher McDougall (Born To Run) qualifies Scott's own experience.

Scott (red top) right after his 6th consecutive win at Western States, with his best friend, confident, pacer, ass-kicker, Dusty (photo credit: Robin Mills)
When I first started running seriously, marathons first then ultramarathons, I shared the same philosophy than Scott Dunlap which is that running allows us to stay fit while enjoying eating (and, no, that's not the only reason we run! ;-). Scott (Jurek) goes much farther and seriously in associating this two concepts, demonstrating how eating well turns into running excellence.

Overall the book will show you Scott the way some of us had the pleasure to discover when meeting him at ultra races but with a much deeper introspection than his humility was hiding so far, highlighting new traits I didn't know myself: a special blend of human and intellectual intelligence, open-mindedness, gifted but very hard working, kindness, passion, mental toughness (e.g. winning two major 100-mile races with a sprained ankle), humility and competitiveness, resilience, sensitivity, compassion, integrity, pragmatism, attachment to family values and friendship, care giving, ...

You don't have to be aiming at winning Western States 7 times in a row to read or like Eat & Run, nor to become a vegan. If you are a runner, you will find in this book a lot of inspiration to handle your own struggles, during races or simply in life! Thank you for opening both your heart and your mind, Scott, and going through this ultra race that writing and publishing a book is!

And as Brooks says, Run Happy out there! ;-)

PS: chatting about the Brooks Cascadia at Miwok 2007

Saturday, June 2, 2012

National Trails Day: multiple opportunities to celebrate!

This Saturday was a very special day, the 20th anniversary of the American Hiking Association's National Trails Day! The perfect day to give back to the trail system we enjoy so much all year around, for racing or training. As the website says: "America's Largest Trailgating party!" ;-)
For me, it was also a way to celebrate the incredible wealth we have in the Bay Area with the combination of the perfect weather, the lack of pollution, the nearby hills, the abundant number of parks and trails and the tight ultra running community. I'm especially grateful for it after having just returned from 10 days in Dubai and Riyadh where I ran a total of 70 miles in extreme heat, dryness, pollution and sand dust.
See a few other pictures from my early morning run at Almaden Quicksilver in my Picasa album.

Then, we also celebrated Pierre-Yves' return on the trails after his 10 days at the hospital following his heat stroke at the end of Ohlone 50K, less than half a mile from the finish... For that, I drove down to Almaden Quicksilver Park in San Jose, early this Saturday morning and managed to run 14 miles including one with Pierre-Yves, Gary, Larry and Adona, before driving back to Cupertino for some trail maintenance work.
It's great to see you back smiling and healthy, Pierre-Yves, phew!

As I left the Mockingbird parking lot of the Almaden Park, it was great to see several dozens of volunteers gathering to help the Santa Clara County Park Rangers build a new bridge on the New Almaden Trail. Our Quicksilver Trail Maintenance master, Paul Fink, was there but just to give a hand this time, not to lead the project as he has done for the 10th year in a row throughout the year, and in particular in January when I could join his group.
In Cupertino, the trail maintenance project was with another organization, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD), at Picchetti Ranch, an area very familiar to all of us, Stevens Creek Striders. In a few hours we raised a section of the trail which gets very muddy in the winter. We were 10 volunteers, 1 Ranger and 1 District Technician, everybody taking on tasks very seriously and efficiently.
Again, a few other pictures are up in my Picasa album.

I hope you too were able to either enjoy one of our trails if you live in the US, or even help out on one of the thousands trail maintenance projects this weekend. And if you live abroad, I wish you can one day visit and see what our trails look like. Not that there aren't other places in the world with great trails too. But not in downtown Dubai and Riyadh at least...