notes from a creative writing PhD candidate
“I belong to a small, eclectic community of men and women where status is calibrated precisely as a function of one’s ability to endure.”
Recently I finished reading Eat & Run for the second time and, not surprisingly, flew through its pages just as fast as I did the first time a year ago. The book combines two of my favorite topics: healthy food and long distance running. Part memoir, part cookbook, Eat & Run traces Jurek’s journey from his humble roots in Minnesota to his rise to fame as one of the best ultrarunners in the world.
Jurek’s mother was diagnosed with MS when he was just a child, and he often took to the trails to deal with the sadness and frustration that comes with taking care of an ailing parent, punishing himself physically while simultaneously releasing himself mentally. “By the time I started running, I knew how to suffer,” Jurek writes. His family wasn’t well-to-do, but as a child he learned to prepare simple meals, grow vegetables, and began experimenting with fueling himself using non-animal products at an innovative cross country ski camp as a teenager: “Simplicity and a connection to the land made us happy and granted us freedom. As a bonus, it made us better runners.” Although it was more expensive to eat vegan products and organic produce, and much more time-consuming to cook wholesome food from scratch, “Fuel and medicine–food–was not the place to scrimp.” I appreciate Jurek’s honest, direct voice, and he does an excellent job rehashing some of the more infamous races of his career, from the Hardrock 100 to Badwater 135 through Death Valley to the race in Mexico’s Copper Canyon against the Tarahumara (as chronicled in Christopher McDougall’s bestseller Born to Run).
The more books I read and films I watch about endurance sports, the more I notice an interesting thread: many people who get into the sport do so in order to alleviate some kind of personal suffering. Many ultrarunners have confessed that they suffer from depression, or became interested in the sport after someone dear to them passed away. I’m no exception. I played high school lacrosse a decade ago and remember dreading running. Whenever we had a timed mile at practice, I would spend the entire run debating whether or not I should quit. (I never did, but that negativity certainly didn’t make the mile any easier.) Often running was used as punishment by my coaches, and it’s undeniable that for many years after my glory days playing attack/first home (the position in women’s lacrosse that coincidentally runs the least) I considered myself a proud non-runner.
In April 2010 my mother passed away after a four-year battle from colon cancer. I can’t really recall many events from the last day I saw her, but I vividly remember coming home from the hospice that spring morning and lacing up an old pair of running shoes. I simply had to get out of the house; I craved the lung-burning, metallic, blood-like taste in my mouth that comes from heavy exertion. Likely I didn’t make it more than a couple of miles before I exhausted myself, but, like Jurek, “Now that I knew the rewards of pain, I wanted more pain. I wanted to use it as a tool to pry myself open.” Something had clicked: running put into perspective the state of my, and my dad’s, life, and the more I pushed myself–the farther and faster my legs took me–the better I felt.
It wasn’t until a handful of years later that I started entering races and taking the sport more seriously. My desire to compete in running and make it a daily ritual–rather than just lacing up every time I needed to deal with a difficult situation–has stemmed not from a place of suffering, but a place of acceptance. One of my favorite parts from Jurek’s book discusses the “pursuit of transcendence: that instant when we think we can’t go on but do go on.” We keep going; we are intrepid; we carry on.
Eat & Run is relevant to those who are planning their next endurance challenge or are fascinated by a peek into an elusive, interesting community of eclectic athletes. Jurek inspires us to run faster, eat healthier, and be all-around better people. I think you’d agree with me that after reading this book, you really want to meet him; he truly seems like a genuine, nice guy. Sure, he can run hundreds of miles for days without sleep and logs more miles in a week than many of us run in our entire lives, but he’s remained humble. I admire his dedication to the sport and to taking care of his mother while she was sick, and find a link with him regarding his passion for food and family.
“I don’t remember anyone talking about a primal connection to food, or how by eating the vegetables we grew we were connecting ourselves to the place where we lived and each other…I didn’t know it, but I was learning a lot about food and its connection to love.”
24 vegan recipes found in Eat & Run: (*It’s been mentioned that Jurek–with the help of his ultrarunner wife, Jenny–should come out with a vegan cookbook. I couldn’t agree more, and from what I can surmise from the Internet, this project seems to be in the works.)
“Buttery” Omega Popcorn
Carob Chia Pudding
Chocolate Adzuki Bars
Coco Rizo Cooler
8-Grain Strawberry Pancakes
Green Power Pre-Workout Drink
Holy Moly Guacamole
Indonesian Cabbage Salad with Red Curry Almond Sauce
Kalamata Hummus Trail Wrap
Long Run Pizza Bread
Minnesota Mashed Potatoes
Minnesota Winter Chili
Rice Balls (Onigiri)
Smoky Chipotle Refried Beans
Strawburst Anti-Inflammatory Smoothie
Tamari-Lime Tempeh and Brown Rice
Western States Trail “Cheese” Spread
Xocolatl Energy Balls