Scott Jurek and the #AT Appalachian Trail #FKT

© Jurek

He needs no introduction; Scott Jurek is an icon in the sport of ultra running. He has won Hardrock 100, Spartathlon, Badwater 135, raced over 24 hours and of course he has won Western States an incredible 7 times in a row, 1999 – 2005.

Listen to my interviews from Talk Ultra HERE and HERE

All Scott Jurek content HERE

In recent years, his running has almost taken a back seat. He shot to ‘more’ fame in Chris McDougall’s book, ‘Born to Run’ and then he released his own book, Eat and Run’ which gave an insight into his Vegan lifestyle, something he has adhered to since 1999.

I was fortunate to spend time with Scott when he came over to the UK, we even managed a run on the Lakeland 100 course which was followed with an impromptu meet and greet and book signing. (Guardian HERE)

For many (me included) we wondered if Scott’s racing days were over? He had a recent attempt at Leadville 100.

Jurek admits his comeback at the Leadville 100-mile trail race “didn’t go entirely to plan“. He was closing on third place when stomach problems and nausea hit. Where years ago he “used to run through that stuff”, this time he lost places and finished eighth.

“Overall, I was happy just getting back on the horse and running another 100-miler,” he says, “to familiarize myself with what it takes.” 

Jurek also participated in Transgrancanaria but it all seemed a far cry from his full on racing days. Scott did say to me though on many occasions, I have more to give and Yiannis Kouras’ 24-hour record still holds a big attraction to me.

Jurek considers the 24-hour race “the pinnacle” of ultra running:

 “There’s nothing else like it – mentally it’s the most difficult.”

Cut to May 27th 2015 and with little fanfare, Scott announced via social media that he would take on the AT (Appalachian Trail).

“Embarking on a big adventure tomorrow, something I’ve always wanted to do. The time is now!” – May 27th via Facebook

Followers of my website and in particular those who follow my podcast, Talk Ultra, will know all about the AT via ‘Speedgoat’ Karl Meltzer’s talk and recent attempt.

It was a surprise to see Scott take this on!

He was very clear with no ambiguity, the record was his target! Jennifer Pharr Davis set the current record of 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes and as Speedgoat will tell you, that record is solid.

Rumors came out that Scott would target 42 days.

Not one for mincing his words, Scott’s good friend, Karl Meltzer said, ‘That ain’t gonna happen!’ This wasn’t out of a lack of respect; it was a simple assessment of the task at hand and the fact that Scott seemed to have considerably less research going into the event, certainly in comparison to Pharr Davis or Meltzer.

Ironically just 4 days into his attempt, Scott picked up some severe knee pain and although hitting some incredibly high daily targets, he slowly but surely got off pace. Something that Meltzer touched on in Talk Ultra podcast:

‘You miss a mile here and a mile there and then all of a sudden you are 20 or 30 miles behind pace and you then you just can’t get that back!’

Meltzer should know, he has one successful AT crossing under his belt and his recent attempt failed after he got behind pace. He does plan to ‘go again’ and 2016 looks likely but just as one would expect, Karl gave up 2 weeks of his time and met Scott on the trail. Running side-by-side the duo slowly but surely goy back on track and now with less than 400 miles to go, Scott may well just achieve what looked impossible.

Yesterday, July 2nd after 36 days, Scott crossed into New Hampshire. He has 400 miles +/- to go. When one considers that the current record stands at 46 days, if Scott maintains his current pace, a new record looks likely. 42 days was always a target and one has to wonder, will Scott put in a couple of really big days to get the job done?

Buzz Burrell on Facebook commented:

 “Scott Jurek is in New Hampshire now, bearing down on the AT … there is no easy way to do this … 100 milers are really hard, multi-days are even harder, and long trail thru-runs are … well…?”

Scott said via his own Facebook page:

“It’s been the rainiest June in Vermont in 130 years so it’s only fitting that my last few miles were in a torrential downpour. Yesterday was a rough one but I was pumped to cross my second to last state line this morning. Hello New Hampshire!’”- (Facebook page HERE)

Supported by his wife Jenny Jurek, the fkt will have no doubt been an epic journey and undertaking for her, something that Scott acknowledged on June 25th:

“Day 4 (he showed a photo of he and Jenny running) of the Appalachian Trail running across Fontana Dam, TN with the love of my life. Without her this journey would be impossible. She is my lifeline and makes sure this ship keeps heading north. Jenny inspires me to keep putting one foot in front of the other when it seems impossible. Hard to believe how far we’ve come, Day 30 today! This one is for you babe!”

So there you have it. Scott has been helped and followed by so many on this epic journey; runners, fans, photographers, press and it is countdown time. I for one am rooting for Scott as he clicks off those final miles.

It’s going to be an exciting week ahead.

If you wonder what impact a journey like this has on ones body. Take a look at these two photgraphs. The first image was taken on May 29th just 2 days after the start, the latter image taken July 2nd.

May 29th Scott Jurek

Both images are protected under copyright – ©scottjurek and ©markgodale

Following on from this post, today July 3rd

Marshall Ulrich posted on Scott’s FB page, and I quote:

Marshall Ulrich Diet is everything, I make no bones about saying Vegan and multiday doesn’t work, many of us discovered this long ago adventure racing, mountaineering and recently running across America, 3063 miles in 52 days, losing only 4 pounds eating anything and everything that my body told me to. Scott is losing muscle mass and has no real food (fats and protiens) to replace it. Having said that, I wish Scott all the luck in the world and I consider him a good friend. p.s. I used to be a vegetarian YEARS ago.

This certainly made me think. What are your thoughts on what Scott is achieving? Is he hampered or fuelled by a Vegan diet?

I have to say, whatever Marshall thinks, Scott is getting it done and that is seriously impressive! But I do wonder, does Marshall make a good point?

Update 5th July

Boy-oh-boy Marshall’s comments really kicked off a can of worms. First and foremost I posted Marshall’s comments as I thought it raised a legitimate question. My first question, although I never posted it was, ‘Is Scott getting enough calories?’ I never considered if those calories were vegan or not; just calories. But then Marsh made me think. Importantly, I want to clarify that I am just interested in the sport of ultra running and I am a fan of the sport and Scott.

I was interested in the debate that Marshall raised, for me, calories are calories, does it matter if they are vegan or not? So with that in mind, vegan triathlete Laura J Kline commented below and then went on to write a web post HERE. So for balance please read it. But I do take exception to the comment, ‘What I will never, ever understand is why anyone feels the need to bash the vegan lifestyle.’

I am not bashing the vegan lifestyle and I personally don’t think Marsh was, he was saying it is not the best way to fuel a thru run? I sit on the fence to the answer but love the thought processes involved.

Update 7th July via Runners World ©

As Jurek chronicles his trek on social media, many have noticed he’s lost a lot of weight.

“I know it’s a hot topic,” Jenny said while laughing. According to her, Jurek expected this to happen even with his voracious diet.

“You can’t not lose weight; thru-hikers get emaciated,” she said. His weight loss is not from a lack of eating or his vegan diet. Jenny makes him a fatty smoothie filled with three different kinds of proteins at every stop. She said other hikers have brought vegan desserts and pizza along the route as well.

To break the Appalachian Trail speed record for a supported thru-hike, Scott Jurek needs to summit Mt. Katahdin in Maine by 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, July 12. With just under 230 miles remaining, Jurek will need to average about 45 miles a day to make it.

contact above all ©runnersworld – original article HERE

Update July 8th – It’s going to be close folks…!

‘Appalachian Trail Day 43: 2000 miles down, 189.2 to go. Getting closer!”

Good luck Scott!

46 thoughts on “Scott Jurek and the #AT Appalachian Trail #FKT

  1. Pingback: Ultramarathon Daily News, Fri, July 3

  2. Marshal knows his stuff. But Scott took his racing to a new level when he went Vegan. For me, give me meat!

    • Michael for sure. We all know and can see Scott getting it done. Marshall agrees
      that his performance is incredible. It’s a simple question, would Scott look, perform, feel and recover better if he was not vegan for a multi day adventure? Nobody doubts Scott’s dedication on this. Top man!

  3. It clearly looks as though Scott is not getting enough caloric intake…which generally requires more mass be consumed when you’re vegan..

    • Carson, nobody is questioning Scott’s performance. The opposite! He is getting worldwide applause for it. But if one person is valid to raise a question it’s Marshall. He has done the multi day stuff and succeeded. His point is that when he ran across the USA he ate everything, burned turns of calories and only lost 4lb. Scott is getting it done! But Marshall questions is his vegan diet the OPTIMUM way to fuel his journey? Looking at the photos in this post one has to question… Ultimately, Scott will do the record barring a disaster but what will be the long term affects, recovery period and so on. Pardon the pun but it’s food for thought. That is all.

      • Is his vegan diet the OPTIMUM way to fuel his journey?

        If this is the question then its an unanswerable one right? Jurek has made endless amounts of calculations that we are not privy to, his diet and weight surely are one of them. But how do you know what is optimum? Not losing weight while being this active is in and of its self not sustainable, logically speaking. Bodies probably should be losing weight at this expenditure. This is an exceptional time in his athletic life. I wouldn’t think that changing his diet before doing something like this would optimize his effort. It probably would just make his tummy hurt and his body would have the added stress of adapting to new foods as fuel – also his spiritual preferences would be compromised (a big motivator for some). Not to be flippant, but at the end of the day questioning his food choices seems more a conversation about what we as an audience are projecting on to him than the functioning reality of his feat.

      • The thing is, it’s easy to get tons of calories and fat and protein on a vegan diet. Scott could be eating oreos and peanut butter milkshakes, with a lot more calorie density than meat and eggs or whatever. So to say he’s losing weight because he’s vegan is simply not a sensible criticism.. If he beats the record, especially by a lot, it’s going to make the vegan diet look like an advantage, not a problem .

      • I think you have to take into account that Marshall’s body type is different from Scott’s. And also that Scott is running the AT and not on roads. I am sure his vegan diet is helping him to recover. And I don’t think the question should be “what kind of diet he follows” but rather “how much is he eating?” Following a vegan diet doesn’t mean you can’t get enough calories/fat/protein. That argument has been blown out of the water long ago. It’s strange that people are fixating on this.

      • Laura, I agree with you. When I made this post I never questioned Scott’s ‘veganism.’ I looked at the photos and thought, ‘Wow, this is what running for multiple days is doing to him and how difficult it must be for him to get the calories?’ It was 24 hours later when Marshall posted about how vegan WAS NOT the way to fuel a run like this. He may have a point and it’s good to ask the question. I think it’s important that his comments are not seen as ‘anti’ vegan but just a question of is vegan a way to fuel a thru run. A simple answer would be yes because Scott is obviously doing it!

      • Thanks Ian – what I failed to say is that I did not at all think YOU were bashing the vegan diet. You simply evoked a discussion by raising a question. And I love that, because it’s a discussion that I agree needs more awareness. The points I raised in my blog were to counter what I was reading in Marshall’s responses. How he was handling himself what he was saying. Thank you for bringing it to light and providing a forum for discourse.

      • Let’s be perfectly clear, Marshall is, by his own words not discussing whether or not a vegan diet is optimal. He is making a declarative, black and white judgement based on opinion on basically no evidence:
        “…I make no bones about saying Vegan and multiday doesn’t work…”

        Making a judgment statement about the merits of Scott’s diet without knowing how Scott’s body is faring, what his energy levels are like, his level of health, his daily recovery, etc, while leaning only on the “well, when I ran across the USA, I only lost 4 lbs” argument is bad reasoning. Who said gross body weight loss is even the right metric? Scott’s AT effort is exactly the kind of activity that will shred through body fat as a fuel source. As long as his total body fat percentage doesn’t dip into the essential body fat levels (2-5%) he’s likely fine. There are so many moving parts in making a determination regarding the merits of a particular diet that it’s foolish and irresponsible to do so based on the comparison of two instagram photos. I can’t believe I actually had to write that last sentence.

        *note: I am not vegan, and usually am the one in the room who isn’t a fan of a vegan diet, but not because I don’t think it’s necessarily incompatible with high athletic performance.

      • Interesting response today which I have added to my post: via Runner’s World

        As Jurek chronicles his trek on social media, many have noticed he’s lost a lot of weight.

        “I know it’s a hot topic,” Jenny said while laughing. According to her, Jurek expected this to happen even with his voracious diet.

        “You can’t not lose weight; thru-hikers get emaciated,” she said. His weight loss is not from a lack of eating or his vegan diet. Jenny makes him a fatty smoothie filled with three different kinds of proteins at every stop. She said other hikers have brought vegan desserts and pizza along the route as well.

  4. I think Scott’s energy is definitely fueled by his vegan diet and he will recover great… that’s the great thing about being a vegan. It seems like it would be difficult to keep up with the calories even if he is consuming a lot of fat since he had so little fat to begin with on his body.

  5. I actually think the lost of weight its just an energetic optimization of his body. I mean, he still looks strong to me and think if he keeps it under control will be needing less energy to move and specially lower impact on its joints.

  6. Not having done the AT myself but having had many friends who have done it, one of them said to me yesterday when we were waiting to cheer Scott on here in NH- “when I through hiked the AT, I was pouring food down my throat and still losing weight.” I think it is Scott’s grueling schedule and the nature of doing the AT that is causing his weight loss, not that his diet is vegan. I think everyone loses a lot of weight out on the trail. It’s too hard to get enough food back in for a regular through hiker, let alone Scott’s pace.

  7. For those of you who have read his book, it clearly indicates that vegan diet helps recovery. If the diet wasnt successful, Scott would not be able to come this long and fast. We’ll wait and watch post the event how well he recovers. Coming to the 2 pics, its expected that in a multiday event you would loose some weight, besides the second pic is a bit photo shopped for him to look even more skinny.

    • I am a photographer, 2nd pic is not photo shopped. Lets stick to what we know and can see. Admittedly, the photo may portray Scott looking more skinny and depleted than in reality. But I must clarify, this post was posted with the photos before Marshall’s comments.

      • I’m a photographer too and that second shot clearly has an Instagram filter on it, something akin to turning up the Clarity slider in Lightroom. Just look at the high contrast and hard edges of the blown out areas on the shirt sleeve. The filter is adding local contrast and making features like his veins and tendons pop out more. Just look at the “before” photo modified to simulate the “after” photo.

        In particular, look at his right hand and forearm. The adjustment makes him look gaunter. With just a simple adjustment I’ve made Jurek look 5 lighter.

        While Jurek is no doubt losing weight (as anyone, vegan or otherwise, would experience on a trip like this), the Instagram filter on the second shot is having an impact on peoples’ perception.

      • John, the simple adding of contrast, reducing highlight and enhancing shadow with a touch of clarity and black is a standard effect. I’d agree that the (2nd) shot of Scott does have a similar ‘effect’ added. But some said his face was ‘photoshopped’ i.e.: face had a skew or distortion effect. I agree that adding contrast etc may add to the drama but it doesn’t change what is underneath and that is a gaunt, drawn and tired Scott. But I agree, the filter is enhancing the drama. Either way, the two photos were posted pre Marhall’s comments. I never posted them to say he was doing anything wron, I posted them to say ‘look how hard this is!’ and I didn’t ‘choose’ that gaunt picture, that was actually the last picture posted when I did my post.

  8. He is not hampered by a vegan diet at all. Scott has always said that his vegan diet helps him recover much faster than if he were not on a vegan diet. If anything, the vegan diet will help him achieve the FKT. He might be losing weight now (of course), but I’m 1000% confident he’ll gain all that weight back once he breaks the record.

    • Day-to-day I am sure Scott benefits from being vegan. Marsh raises the question it’s NOT the way to fuel a thru run like the AT BUT Scott is proving hime wrong. The question for me will be on the recovery and what impact the vegan diet has had? I don’t know the answers but love the thoughts, questions and answers that this will bring. Thanks

  9. I think it’s sad that Marshall is taking time out of his day to criticize Scott on the verge of an amazing achievement. I could just as easily make the statement that perhaps Marshall could have achieved his record had he followed a vegan diet, as those who do tout its ability to aid in recovery. The AT takes a toll, and you aren’t able to eat anything you want at any given time like you would on a trans-American run. There are hours on end where Scott is isolated in wilderness, able to eat only what he could fit in his pack. And if the photos are the primary basis of Marshall’s argument, take a look at before and after photos of Jennifer Pharr Davis. She is not a vegan and has said, “At the end of the day I just try to eat as much as I can. I never felt overly hungry or weak when I set the AT record, but I still lost 10-15 pounds. When I finished, I weighed just under 130 pounds. For someone who is 6 feet tall that is pretty skinny.” Scott and his team are the only people who can judge whether or not he is healthy, and if/when he does ultimately break the record he’ll have all the time he wants to get his weight back to where he feels it should be. Yes, of course, you can find greater caloric density in animal protein, but for Scott to dismiss that, hold strong to his beliefs, and still achieve such incredible things… I think we should all pause and at least consider why we continue to follow in an aging tradition of slaughtering animals for food when there’s little to no apparent benefit. At least for me, Scott has opened my eyes to what is possible on the trail and in my day-to-day life.

    • Corey, I personally don’t think Marshall is anti Vegan. He is stating it’s not the best diet for a 40+ day run. Of course, that is his opinion and I value it. I like the questions and debate that come from it. Ironically when I made my post, I never even questioned Scott’s Vegan diet, I just thought he he has run a bloody long way and he is struggling to get calories. I never considered this was because he was Vegan, so I valued Marshall’s comments and in all honesty if anyone else had said (Pharr Davis excluded) I wouldn’t have posted the comment but Marsh has history and achievement on his side and he understands what it’s like to run for 50+ days, over 3000 miles running 58 is miles a day. It’s a great debate and not one that is anti vegan more a debate on: what is best? how do you get calories in? how many calories do you need? and so on. Thanks for the input.

  10. How does anyone know what his method has been? Maybe he bulked up expecting to lose mass before he started the run. It’s not as if Scott is the guy in the public eye all the time. Also, I have been following his journey and he doesn’t look unhealthy in any of the photos that have been posted. Shadows and time of day have everything to do how a picture turns out. If there is anyone Scott excels at, it is monitoring every move his body makes and how it responds to everything. If he were considered about dropping mass or not getting enough calories, he would address it. Making assumptions and suggesting he should have done it differently while he is in the final days of breaking a record and achieving a dream of his just is in bad taste. If Marshall really wanted to “wonder” about it, then he should have waited until the feat was over and talked to Scott himself about it.

  11. Pingback: Episode 84 – Surprise Guest Meaghan Nana-Sinkam | Back of Pack Endurance

  12. Speaking as a medic, vegan, ultra runner and someone who reads extensively on all these subjects IMHO veganism is totally compatible with fuelling this journey. No question. Scott will recover extremely well I have little doubt. A fun thing to think about…where do some of the largest animals on the planet who roam the plains get their body mass from? (Grass and not much else). I know they don’t do what Scott is doing but think about it.

  13. Speaking as a medic, vegan and ultrarunner who reads extensively on diet there is no reason a journey like this cannot be fuelled by a plant based diet. The opposing view is old school. The comment made that Scott is not getting enough protein or fat from his “no real food” diet is just not true and appears to show a lack of knowledge. He is not eating enough calories that is all and this would happen whatever diet he was eating. All our bodies are different. I have little doubt he will recover no differently or better than anyone else. A fun thing to think about….where do some of the largest animals on the planet who roam the plains get their muscle mass from? (Grass and not much else) I know they are not doing what Scott is doing but think about it.

  14. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion as well as responsible for taking responsibility for their on well being. Conclusion to both these quandaries is usually derived upon by informed individuals doing the research of considering all the viewpoints of the proven experts in the particular field in question. Much as to the fact that one tremendously successful ULTRA Marathon Runner chooses to surgically remove his toenails, another likewise successful ULTRA Marathon Runner chooses to forgo the consumption or use of any dairy, meat or animal by-product….. So each individual has to decide for themselves what may be best fit for themselves….. Personally….. As for my own ULTRA Running strategy……..{although they are often very painful and a constant distraction for me…. I prefer to keep my toenails…right where God put them} 😉 lol But that’s just me….. 😉 Seriously people….. Run..Live and Learn… just like they left the gate open…. but always be respectful of others rights to same 😉

  15. I can’t help but think that the whole weight discussion started because of local contrast enhancement in the second photo in your article (by M. Godale). To me it has that typical micro contrast loo to it. Enhancing the local contrast making the photo more dramatic (so often done with homeless people street photography as well).

    This might not be known by many readers, but to photographers it’s nothing new of course. Would be nice to see the second photo without the extra local contrast treatment.
    It is as easy as using a separate filter, or adjust in ACR itself, or with a low amount, high radius Unsharp Mask in PS.

    I’m sure it wasn’t intended this way, and everyone is free to use whatever treatment they want of course to their photos. But the juxtaposition of the two photos (one treated more dramatic, one lets say more natural) does not make it a real good base to judge weight loss let alone diet choices.

    Ito (big big fan of this Ian’s website, the podcast, and Scott Jurek).

    • We discussed the ‘photo’ adjustment a little earlier in the thread and yes, as a photographer, I agree it has had highlight, shadow, contast adjustment which ADDS to Scott’s appearance. However, under the techniques is still a very drawn, tired and hungry Scott. That is not a slur on Scott or his vegan diet. I am just saying the AT is bloody hard, doesn’t this photo show it!

  16. When I hiked the AT in ’98, we always laughed about the saying that the people who finish are strong, healthy woman and scrawny white guys. Men don’t have the same body fat to get their reserves from, so they end up looking gaunt and emaciated by the time they finish travelling 2160+ mi (whether running it or hiking with a pack). I personally gained 2 pounds, but went from a size 8 to a size 2.

    Best of luck Scott! Enjoy every step and make it an adventure to last a lifetime. You can do it–and you’ll have lots of opportunity to pack on the pounds when you are finished.

    • True, Heather “Anish” Anderson broke the overall record (male/female, supported/unsupported first, then Josh Garrett broke the supported record bit after that. Both I think were/are veg*n.

  17. Pingback: Scott Jurek completes the masterpiece in a new CR! #SJAT15 #AppalachianTrail | Ian Corless host of Talk Ultra podcast

  18. Pingback: Episode 95 – Scott and Jenny Jurek #AT Appalachian Trail Special | Ian Corless host of Talk Ultra podcast

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