This was a book I had planned on NOT reading. I had seen it mentioned in a few places, and saw Jurek promoting it on Twitter and on various blogs, but I just didn’t have much interest. While I consider myself an ultrarunner, I’m in a much different place with diet than Scott. Or so I thought… (More on that below…) But then I saw a couple of good comments on it here and there, grabbed the kindle sample, and was immediately hooked. There’s something about reading race reports that I’ve always been drawn to, and while this was much more than just race reports, there was enough excitement in his recaps of Badwater, Western States, etc., that I was sold.
Regarding diet, I am certainly in a much different place… Jurek has been a vegan for a long time, while I’m much more in the Paleo/Primal world these days, though I wouldn’t quite put myself fully in that camp. I suppose if I had to identify myself, it would be similar to the diet outlined in Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint (paleo + some dairy w/ the 80% rule (eat this way 80% of the time)) and I also really like the Paul Jaminet’s The Perfect Health Diet. But then again I mix in some SCD/GAPS/Weston A Price concepts as well, which Chris Kresser is high on. But certainly not vegan! However, as far as vegan diets go, I think Jurek has it right… While he eats many things I probably would not be interested in, some of the foods I see as problematic he treats the way our ancestors did — soaking and sprouting grains and beans is just one example.
I seek out traditional whole foods rather than highly refined meat substitutes. I look for products that have been sprouted, soaked, or fermented to help break down the indigestible cellulose in plant cell walls. Among soy sources, I favor tempeh, miso, and sprouted tofu, which are all more digestible and have less phytoestrogen (a naturally occurring substance that some—in spite of medical evidence to the contrary—suspect might mimic estrogen’s effects in humans) than isolated soy protein. I eat sprouted-grain breads and tortillas, and at home I often soak my whole grains and beans before cooking.
My biggest challenge in plant-based eating isn’t taking in enough protein but taking in enough calories to replace those I burn on my training runs. I make a big effort to include enough calorie-dense foods in my diet—nuts and nut butters, seeds, avocados, starchy root vegetables, coconut milk, and oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, and sesame oil.
If he just added a little meat, I’d be on board. 🙂 A meat eating vegetarian is probably the best way to eat, and by that I mean just eliminate all the processed carbs and refined foods… Fruit, veggies, and well sourced meat seems to be what works best. Jurek even mentions this in a few places, though he doesn’t quite go that far. He talks about the problems with industrial farming of animals and how it was different for his grandparents… But he never explicitly says he would eat that way now. Overall he’s the least “in-your-face” vegan I’ve ever read…
But it was really the racing part of the book that I loved. Jurek is an incredible runner, and had some amazing runs and amazing comebacks, when he seemed at the brink of disaster… Only to get up, get moving, and eventually win. And sometimes win really big! Amazing….
One thing that scares me is that UTMB defeated him twice, though he eventually finished — in 18th place. I’d have to put UTMB at the top of the races I dream about running some day… Maybe even above Leadville.
Some quotes… including some that I will use as mantra’s on some future run:
We might not have been as experienced as the other teams, and we definitely weren’t as well equipped, but we were focused. Coach had only three commandments: Be in shape. Work hard. Have fun. They were the perfect fundamentals for a bunch of poor redneck Minnesotans. His motto was, “Pain only hurts.”
According to bushido, the best mind for the battlefield—or the race—is that of emptiness, or an empty mind. This doesn’t mean sleepiness or inattention; the bushido concept of emptiness is more like that rush of surprise and expansiveness you get under an ice-cold waterfall. The empty mind is a dominant mind. It can draw other minds into its rhythm, the way a vacuum sucks up dirt or the way the person on the bottom of a seesaw controls the person on the top. When I hear a runner say he “runs his own race,” what I hear is bushido. Bushido is letting go of the past and the future and focusing on the moment. As Thoreau, an American practitioner (though he probably didn’t realize it) of bushido and a pretty good distance walker himself, wrote, “Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers . . . simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” I created my own bushido exercises. I stood in icy rivers to strengthen my mind’s control over my body. I sat cross-legged and meditated, visualizing my breath, focusing.
And yet ultrarunners—even the fiercest competitors—grow to love each other because we all love the same exercise in self-sacrifice and pursuit of transcendence. Because that’s what we’re all chasing—that “zone” where we are performing at the peak of our abilities. That instant when we think we can’t go on but do go on. We all know the way that moment feels, how rarely it occurs, and the pain we have to endure to grab it back again. The longer an ultrarunner competes, I believe, the more he grows to love not only the sport, not only his fellow ultrarunners, but people in general. We all struggle to find meaning in a sometimes painful world. Ultrarunners do it in a very distilled version.
I’ve got a bunch of other quotes in my Evernote notebook, but that is good for now. Enjoy!
Nice post, Sean!