In 2015, renowned ultrarunner Scott Jurek broke the Appalachian Trail speed record while eating a plant-based diet.
Written by Jurek and his wife Jenny (JLu), North: Finding My Way While Running The Appalachian Trail recounts all the blood, sweat and tears they poured into his plant-fueled achievement.
I’d already reviewed Eat & Run, Jurek’s first book and The Game Changers, James Wilks’ documentary focusing on Jurek and other vegan-powered endurance athletes. I’d also read about him in Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run.
So it was with high expectations that I read North. I wasn’t disappointed.
No one, of course, runs a nearly 2,200-mile wilderness footpath in record time without the help of an enormous supporting cast. Some of my favorite North passages detail Jurek’s interactions with those he encountered along the way.
Take “Horty.” At the starting line of his first 50-mile run in 2003, Jurek heard fellow runner David Horton mimicking him in a high-pitched voice and taunting “This is a man’s race, Ginny!”
Jurek walked away thinking, “How in the world did this flagrant heckler teach at a Christian university?”
But he finished the race just 15 paces behind Horton, who’d had collapsed on a cot in the medical tent. Jurek realized the older man’s “bark was worse than his bite.”
The two became close — and Horty showed up at the end of Scott’s first week on the Trail. He brought the optimism and encouragement his friend needed to keep going!
Jenny shares the raw emotions the stress of the race put on their marriage. On one occasion, Scott refused to shake off the locals who wanted to run with him.
Fed up with the intrusions into their private time, Jenny grabbed the GPS tracker that let everyone know Scott’s location and threatened to throw it into the woods: “At the top of my lungs I shouted, ‘It’s me or the tracker!’ His eyes widened. ‘No JLu! Don’t do it!’”
Another incident taught Scott to keep the race’s challenges in perspective:
“One local runner… told me here was there to run thirty miles with me…And then he told me about the hellish year he’d just been through. He’d been diagnosed with leukemia … The thirty-mile run was a gift he was giving himself, a kind of celebration for getting through it…My day was transformed… those thirty miles wound up being the easiest of the whole stretch.”
What encouraged me most, however, is that vegan foods fueled every stride of Jurek’s effort. Granted, his frequent snacks of vegan potato chips, ice cream and chocolate cake weren’t ideal choices.
In spite of that, he showed once again that the human body is completely capable of achieving the highest levels of endurance on a diet free of meat, fish, dairy products and eggs!