In a sport populated by egotists and eccentrics, ultrarunner Scott Jurek seems to be the exception. He's a nice guy, a valedictorian and a vegan. At times, in his new memoir, "Eat & Run," he seems bashful about calling himself a champion -- though the title was excruciatingly hard-earned. But while eccentrics run for pleasure, the 38-year-old Jurek, who once ran 165 miles in 24 hours, runs for pain. "I wanted to use it as a tool to pry myself open," he writes. He spoke to us from his home in Colorado.
You write about overcoming severe pain and injuries while running 100-mile races. When do you know that you have to stop?
I like to say that there's a difference between discomfort and pain. Discomfort is when your legs feel like they've been beaten with a baseball bat. It's that deep ache, a kind of numbing pain. Whereas the pain from an injury is that sharp kind of pain when every single step is a jolt. [Discomfort is] temporary -- I guess that's the key differentiator. Most of the effects of discomfort are not going to be long-term. So it's learning that the human body has limits, but those limits sometimes are a lot higher or a lot farther than we think.
How can urbanites fit more running into their lifestyles?
Ultramarathoning can become an important way just to transport people. In other cultures, that's how they get around. Exercise was part of a lifestyle, a way of life, and now we're so far removed from that. I'm a big fan of what I call "errand running" -- commuting via running with a backpack. It's a way that people can fit the benefits of running into their busy lifestyles. And it can actually be faster. [Laughs] Especially in the city.
Just make sure that you don't forget your wallet.
We call those "bonus miles."
What do you listen to when you run?
Well, it's funny. I never used to listen to music, and I always felt that I needed to listen to my body and be aware of animals around me in remote places where there were mountain lions. But music does have its place, and music is a good discomfort mediator. Or, from another standpoint, it's a good boredom mediator. In the end, it's whatever gets people out the door, moving their bodies and enjoying that experience. ... I've used everything from Krishna Das to Rage Against the Machine.