The last few miles are rough for Scott Jurek. As Eat & Run (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 272 pages, $26) comes to a close, we find the Michael Jordan of ultra-running in a bad way. Abandoned by both his wife and best friend, Jurek ails from nagging foot injuries and trolling bloggers who claim he's washed up.
Jurek responds by setting an American record, but it's in an odd race where runners make the same loop hundreds of times in 24 hours, rather than a 100-plus-mile trail race over mountains and through streams. It feels like a small victory, and it comes with a lot of wondering about what winning really means, anyway.
It's an awkward time for Jurek to write a memoir. Nearing 40 and nearly two decades into his career, he's below his peak, but not yet waxing away in detached repose. But with a movie version of Christopher McDougall's hugely popular book Born to Run set for production, it's a good time for Jurek and his publisher (disclosure: also my publisher) to tell his story.
In Born to Run, Jurek was portrayed as a unique hero who wins by combining Western science, intense discipline and a love of running that approaches spirituality. McDougall spends most of a chapter analyzing Jurek's stunning evolution from a mediocre cross-country skier to an unmatched trail runner. Jurek's own explanation of how he did it is always interesting and sometimes inspiring, but not necessarily helpful to weekend warriors.
Mostly, he runs, often logging three hours a day. He also eats a vegan diet that should embarrass anyone who claims humans need meat for anything other than tastiness. Chapters are capped with Jurek's not-so-simple vegan recipes, which struck as both appetizing and too complicated to attempt.
Born to Run's genius was its way of inspiring everyone who picked it up to ditch their Nikes and go for a jog. Eat & Run might not do the same, but it's a fascinating look into the mind of an intensely introspective super-athlete. Jurek has overcome long odds and accumulated great anecdotes.
If producers do the Born to Run film right, Jurek could soon rival Usain Bolt as the world's most famous runner. I'd cast Adrian Grenier: tall and lean with dark curls and sad, sad eyes.
GO: Scott Jurek will speak at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., on Monday, June 11. 7:30 pm. Free. You can jog to Powell's with Jurek by meeting at Fit Right NW, 2258 NW Raleigh St., at 6:30 pm.