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Photo #1588

A Short Run with Ultrarunner Scott Jurek

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Last week, I had the honor of running 3 miles with a running celebrity.  Here’s a rundown of how I got to run with Scott Jurek on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), who Scott Jurek is and what he is doing on the A.T., and how I got myself in the background of some local news coverage.

Who is Scott Jurek?  In the world of ultrarunning, he is a superstar.  He has the US record for longest distance run in 24 hours (165.7 miles…or 6.5 marathons in one day at an average pace of 8:42 per mile), has won the prestigious 100-mile Western States Endurance Run 7 years in a row, and has won several other major events including the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles starting in Death Valley in mid-July, with 120 degree temperatures…).  In combination with his running, he is also a major advocate for plant-based diets (vegan since 1999), and he co-wrote a bestseller Eat & Run in 2012.

Why is he on the Appalachian Trail?  At the end of May, Scott began a 2,190-mile journey from Georgia to Maine in which he hopes to set the speed record for fastest completion of the entire A.T.  Calling it his ‘masterpiece’ before retirement, his original plan was to beat the existing record of 46 days, 11 hours by up to 4 days, shooting for a July 7th finish in a record 42 days.  By June 24th, he had already gone through New Jersey and was in Harriman & Bear Mountain State Parks in New York.  He had completed nearly 50 miles the day before.

So that is how it happened that, around noon last Wednesday, I joined fellow NY-NJ Trail Conference crazy runners Josh and Melissa in a game of “Let’s see if we can find Scott, get a photo-op with him on the A.T. (where our trail builders are actively building the trail, in the area that the very first section of the A.T. was established in 1923), and run with him for as long as we can”.  Up at the summit of Bear Mountain, we first realized it wouldn’t be a simple “Hey, how’s it goin’?” encounter when we spotted a bunch of local reporters with news cameras…and when we found Scott, he was surrounded by more than a dozen runners.  But something seemed a little unusual, because he was wearing a bright yellow “guide” vest, had a dog running with someone in front of him, and someone else was right next to him holding his arm.

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Scott Jurek guides Tom Panek on the Appalachian Trail on the summit of Bear Mountain

In the whoosh of Scott and everyone running by, and us joining the pack, it took us a few seconds to realize that Scott was guiding a blind runner up the A.T. on Bear Mountain.  Most people attempting a speed record probably wouldn’t purposely do things to slow themselves down, but Scott decided to run a section of difficult terrain with his blind friend as a way to raise awareness for his friend’s guide dog non-profit.  So we received an awesome inspirational boost right off the bat as we ran with everyone 1/4 mile up to the summit.  There, Scott took a quick breather as the reporters talked with Scott and his friend, Tom; they first ran together in the Boston Marathon this past April, where Scott guided Tom to a 3:42 finish (read more about Tom here:  News12 Hudson Valley story, LoHud.com story, Observer.com story).  We listened in and had fun taking some photos, like the one below of Melissa and Josh in front of the in-progress interview.

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Melissa and Josh in front of an in-progress interview with Scott Jurek and Tom Panek

The interview finished up, Scott said goodbye to Tom, and we joined in with the entourage of runners that had grown to about 15.  We passed Perkins Tower, spotted the Manhattan skyline, and then started our descent of Bear Mountain.  I’ve been on this section of trail many times before, as the Trail Conference has been building new trail here for more than 10 years.  It includes a stretch of incredible rockwork, including more than 800 handhewn granite steps (put in place with help from more than 700 volunteers), and it was pretty cool being led by Scott down this trail.

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Scott Jurek leads an entourage of runners down the Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain

A quick shout out to Melissa (bright ‘Trail Crew’ shirt above), who didn’t have her running shoes, but couldn’t pass up the chance to run with Scott and so ran nearly 3 miles in athletic sandals!

We all wound our way down the mountain in mostly-single-file, and then took maybe a 10-minute break while Scott refueled.  At this point, some runners in our group decided to stop, a few more runners joined in, and we decided to follow along a little further.  Scott finished his fueling, and then was nice enough to accommodate any photo requests while we started walking.  The three of us tag-teamed with the camera, and so we got the photo up top of me and Scott at Hessian Lake.  Aside from this photo time, it seemed like most were trying to respect Scott’s space.  The group of 20 now ran through the Bear Mountain Zoo (Scott took a quick stop to watch two big bears playing) to get to the Bear Mountain Bridge.  Scott led the group across the Hudson River, where he hoped to cover another 30 miles for the day, but we decided to make that our stopping point and watched as the group started across the bridge.

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Scott Jurek leads the group of runners across the Bear Mountain Bridge

We ended up running with Scott for about 3 miles, and it was an honor being able to join him on 0.14% of his incredible Appalachian Trail journey.  And lucky for us, our cars were back where we started…3 miles away and more than 1,000 feet of climbing…which meant we had a bit more time to reflect back on Scott’s inspiration!  A fun 6 miles for the day, up and down Bear Mountain, with an ultrarunning celebrity, two cool co-workers (thanks Josh for putting this “Let’s see what happens!” plan together), and a bunch of other great runners sharing in the adventure.

Later that day, we discovered some of the news articles, and found video that they had shot up at the summit of Bear Mountain.  Check out the short video on News12 Hudson Valley’s website.  My royal blue Trail Conference shirt and pale white legs make a few appearances, including the shot below of Josh, myself, and Melissa behind Scott and his wife Jenny (who is serving as his main support crew!).

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Trail Conference representation on News12 video!

Scott is currently in Vermont as of Tuesday morning (June 30), with just less than 500 miles to go; you can follow his progress on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ScottJurek.  It’s tough terrain the rest of the way, but here’s hoping he gets to the end in Maine around his goal date to set a new speed record!

I’ll end this fairly long post with a great quote from Scott from his Bear Mountain summit interview that we listened in on:

Reporter Question:  What have been some of the struggles?

Scott Jurek:  Some of the biggest struggles I would say are, each day, trying to get myself to get out and do the same thing over again. I mean, when I finish at night…I mean, two nights ago, I finished at 1am in the morning, and the next morning I’m waking up at 5:30 and hitting the trail again. And that’s the biggest thing, is every day I’m like “Oh man, I just finished 50 miles!”, you know, so jubilant, and then I remember right away that I’m going to have to wake up and do that again. So, as much as I love being out here, it’s a struggle, and life is a struggle, and it’s in times like that that you learn the most.