Thursday, June 7, 2012

Running with Scott Jurek

Scott Jurek is in the center down on one knee with the yellow singlet. Can you spot Peter Sarsgaard?

Most of the time I run alone. Occasionally I get to run with friends. But on Tuesday I went for a long run around Manhattan with ultra running legend Scott Jurek!!! (and a few other folks, so it's not like it was just me and him) For those who don't know who Scott Jurek is, he is probably one of the most dominant ultra runners in the competitive history of the sport.  He won the Western States 100, which is like the Super Bowl of ultra running, 7 times in a row! He has won the Badwater 135, a race through death valley in July, 2 years in a row.  He holds the US 24-hour record at 165.7 miles (that's 6.5 consecutive marathons). But, more than anything else, he is one of the most humble, nicest, down-to-earth guys I've ever met.  He is pretty much my new hero.

I've been listening to the ultrarunner podcast for the past couple weeks and last week, Scott Jurek was on because he had just finished writing his new book, Eat and Run. The podcast was great and I was definitely interested in picking up the book.  Ever since I read Born to Run, I wanted to know more about Scott's life and his journey to become of the best ultra runners and now I could read all about it in his own words.  I was also starting to think more about diet and nutrition so I was definitely curious about his Vegan diet. After the podcast was over, I went online to see exactly when the book was coming out and low and behold, he was kicking off his book tour in NY by running around Manhattan! This was too good to be true. On top of that, Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run, and Peter Sarsgaard were going to be there as well, because he is adapting Born to Run into a movie! As anyone who has there priorities in order, I promptly took the day off.

The morning run started at 5 AM on the east side at 42nd st. and went all the way up and around counter-clockwise and back to the start. The whole thing was a little more than 50K. I really wanted to do the whole 50K and I certainly was in shape for it having done 50 miles a couple weeks ago, but my knee had been giving me problems and I thought I would play it safe and do more like 10 - 15 miles. My plan was to go into work an hour earlier just to use the gym as home base for the run.  Then I would run up the Hudson River Greenway toward the group and meet them after a couple miles and then run the rest of the way around Battery Park, up the east side to Bryant Park. And that's exactly what happened.

The Run Itself

After I came up with this plan, I took off from the WFC like I always do on my lunchtime runs, except in this case I'd be going a bit further than I normally would to meet up with the group. It was a beautiful day and I even wore my orange sweatshirt because it was in the 50s at the start and I knew I might need it after the run if I was cold and I wouldn't have time to come back to the gym and change.  This was a wise choice.

I started at a very easy pace but my HR was a bit higher than normal.  I felt fine but I guess maybe I was so excited to meetup with the group and a bit nervous that somehow I would miss them. My knee was so-so. Not that painful, but I was definitely aware that there was something there.  But I didn't think about it too much because I was so excited. I took a little video when I got to my usual 2.5 mile turn around point.

Then I stopped again at the furthest point I've ever run during work.

Finally, a little after the Intrepid, I spotted them! I tried to take some video but I was embarrassed to do it when they were close, so I was left with this clip of me being so excited to see them, but you cannot at all tell what I am looking at so I did not include it. As they came up, I saw Scott and asked if I could join and he said "Of course!" As if they were going to tell me to get lost.  I just wasn't sure what the protocol was. I joined the group and there was about 30 or so runners at this point. I started talking to a random guy about how it was going so far and whether they had a lot of people join in like me and he said there were a few.  They also lost a bunch along the way who had started but then left to go to work or something else. It was such a cool and friendly vibe. There was about an even mix of some very experienced ultra runners, and newbies such as myself. 

As we ran along back to the WFC where I started, I could hear a conversation behind me from a guy talking about the farthest he had run up to this point and I knew right away it was Peter Sarsgaard because he has a pretty distinctive voice.  I turned around and there he was.  I admit I was a bit starstruck.  I'm definitely a fan of his. I waited a little while and then when he was running by himself I ran next to him for a bit.  I wasn't really sure what to say without coming off like a complete idiot, but I knew I wanted to say something.  So I just said "It's so cool that you're doing this and running the whole way...  I'm a big fan." He smiled and said "Oh, thanks." And I left it at that. But, that was enough for me, and I really did mean what I said.  I thought it was impressive that he was going to do his first ultra today as part of the kick off for this book tour.

After that, I spotted Mike Arnstein, aka the fruitarian. I heard him on the ultrarunner podcast the week before the Scott Jurek one.  I had heard of this guy before that, but I really became fascinated after listening to the podcast. I won't go into too much detail here because I want to dedicate an entire post about my recent thoughts about diet and running, but let me just say it was very fascinating talking to this guy who takes raw food veganism to another level, and is apparently thriving on it and breaking PRs left and right.

Shortly after that, we had arrived back where I started.  I had run the 4 miles back to the World Financial Center and it felt like nothing.

A little while later we stopped to say bye to a runner who was leaving after finishing his first marathon!

Over the next few miles, a few people kept peeling off the group and one or two others joined us. I was really enjoying running with this group and also covering new ground.  After running the same routes over and over again, it's fun to run some place new. We were approaching the building where my dad and sister work so I called them to let them know we were going to run by. I tried to get a hold of them right as we were passing and just as we were running away I got a call from my Dad that they were there.  I ran over and saw my sister and dad for a few seconds and they could tell how excited I was.  My sister was especially excited to hear that Peter Sarsgaard was there as well. I left after about 30 seconds so I could catch up with them. Since they were only doing 9:30 pace, it didn't take me too long. But, as I sped up to about 7:30 pace to catch up, I realized my knee was bothering me a bit.  I was a little annoyed but I didn't want it to spoil my mood so I ignored it and was soon back to running at an easy pace again.

Over the last couple miles I ended up talking to the organizer of the meetup who is a pretty accomplished ultrarunner.  I talked to him about the differences between a 50 and 100 miler.  As I've heard many times before, he told me that a 100 is in it's own category and he thinks of a 50 in the same category as a marathon.  I guess that's how it always works.  I was remembering telling someone once I finished my first marathon that a half marathon was closer to a 5k than it was to a marathon and that a marathon was in it's own category.  Just reminded me that I am not quite ready for a 100.... yet :)

The run was coming to an end, but there was still the book signing to look forward to in Bryant Park. We finally turned back into Manhattan and before I knew it, we stopped, having reached the end.  The whole run really flew by. It felt like I ran for 20 minutes. Scott was really happy and was giving high fives to a handful of people who had just completed their first ultra, including Peter Sarsgaard. 

Right as we finished, Chris McDougall showed up.  He was talking to Scott about what was happening next at Bryant park. Scott joked with him about how he didn't join us for the run. Chris was wearing a pair of Tarahumara-like sandals and stopped to talk to a guy who was wearing even more minimalist sandals of his own creation.

After that, everyone went there separate ways and I was trying to figure out whether I wanted to go back to get changed and come back to Bryant park or just hang around. As I was deciding, another runner who had dropped off a bit because he was just finishing his first ultra came by. He was completely exhausted and of course incredibly hungry.  I had overheard him talking before about how he was a Vegan when he spoke with the fruitarian guy and he informed some of us that he was going to find a Chipotle to get a massive bean burrito. This sounded perfect for me, so I decided to join him. I just got exactly what he got and we talked about Veganism for a bit.  Mostly he talked and I asked questions and listened. I'm not going to go into too much detail here again, because I will save it for another post.  After an awesome lunch we parted ways and I headed for Bryant park.

I've never been to Bryant park. It's quite nice, and I was in an amazing mood.  I found the tent where they were setting up and I saw them unpacking the new book.  I walked over and got myself a copy.  I think I was the first one to get it because after I bought it, other folks started to line up.  I found a seat in the second row and started to check out the book. This guy who ran the last 5 miles with us sat down next to me and he was wearing a Dirty German t-shirt. We spoke for a while about the race, Born to Run and ultrarunning in general.  It was cool to meet so many people and talk with them about ultras.  This was all new to me.  I probably ended up talking to 8 or 9 different ultrarunners throughout the day.

Then the event started with Chris McDougall playing the role of host. He talked about how he met Scott and a little about his own book Born to Run which was on sale there as well. 

The coauthor of Eat and Run, Steve Friedman, was there as well as Peter Sarsgaard. Peter spoke about how he met Scott and his own experience with running and how he came to deciding to write and direct Born to Run.  From what I understood, Scott Jurek is going to play himself in the movie. I was running out of battery and space on my iPhone so I couldn't shoot everything.  Here, Peter Sarsgaard talks about what running means to him and whether he has thought about running in races.

The whole event lasted about 45 minutes and then everyone got in a line for the book signing. Scott signed my book and wrote "Dimitri, Be Somebody." It's the title of one of the chapters of his book. I know that kind of thing may sound super corny, but when you put it in the context of this whole day and who Scott is, it wasn't corny to me at all. I thanked him again for doing this and I told him how awesome it was to run with him around NY. He said it was a great time, and he was happy I got to take the whole experience in with the run and the book signing. I don't know Steve Friedman to well, but as he signed my book next, I told him that I was very excited to read it. The last person at the table was Chris McDougall. I told him that I had to shake his hand and thank him for introducing me to this world of ultrarunning.  I told him that I just ran my first 50 mile ultra a couple weeks ago and how his book was a big influence.  I'm sure he hears that all the time, but this time it was my turn. He thanked me, and that was it. 

I left Bryant park with a big smile on my face.  You don't often get to meet the people you look up to, and when you do it can be a disappointment if they do not live up to the person you think they are. Scott Jurek is a truly remarkable person and gives off such a positive and sincere vibe, it feels great to just be in his presence. This took a really long time to write and I don't have too much time to go back and edit it and make it sound better.  I have to go now and be somebody.


  1. Wow man - this is totally awesome. What a great day that must have been!

    1. Yeah it went better than I even imagined.