Earlier this week, world-famous long-distance runner Scott Jurek set the new Fastest Known Time for the 2,180 mile Appalachian Trail. Not that anyone’s counting.
Many ultramarathoners view running the A.T. as an ultimate challenge. (Ultramarathons are races beyond the 26.2-mile marathon distance, with ultrarunners being the crazy mountain goats that just can’t stop running farther than that.)
Begun as a dream for a "super trail" connecting Georgia to Maine, the A.T. was built from 1923 - 1937 through the cooperation and sweat of numerous governments, non-profit organizations, volunteer groups, and individuals. Notably, the first section built was created at our very own Bear Mountain in Bear Mountain State Park, NY. Those who hike the AT from one end to the other are known as thru-hikers, and typically take 5-6 months for the journey. The rocky, technical trail winds up and down ~ 500,000 ft of vertical elevation change over many ranges, including the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Hudson Highlands, Taconics, Green Mountains of Vermont and White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Scott covered nearly 50 miles every day (yeah…every day) for 48 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes, through heat, torrential rain, and thunderstorms. That’s like running two marathons and hiking Bear Mountain 7 times every day for 7 weeks. Yikes! This feat puts him in the exceptional category of a thru-runner.
And the best part? Nobody’s counting. Well, not officially anyway. Sure sponsor DeLorme provided him the gadgets and infrastructure to be GPS’ed the whole time, with more than 150,000 fans following his journey on Facebook and Instagram (@scottjurek), but there is no official organization that keeps track of A.T. speed records. In fact, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the organization dedicated to preserving and maintaining the A.T. chooses not to acknowledge these unofficial competitions.
I had the privilege of running 15 miles with Scott and a few other spontaneous companions on his journey through what I lovingly consider to be my extended backyard – Fahnestock State Park. One of the first things I learned during my brief glimpse with Scott and company is that even ultrarunners can have groupies, and they all ask the same questions. So don't do it! It's annoying. (Though Scott is far too Minnesota Nice to ever say it that way).
But what struck me most was his emphasis on his daily ritual—run, run, run, eat/sleep/hygiene, run, run, run—being a job. A 24-hour job punctuated far too briefly by a constant tradeoff between time dedicated to getting sleep or food. Even prioritizing sleep, he barely eked out 6 hours of rest each night, and that at a high cost; little over halfway through it was clear he had already lost significant weight from his already toned frame. He worked hard. Really hard.
This all seemed tragic to me. Stopping to enjoy the many amazing views, wild berries, flora, and wildlife following by luxuriously eating large quantities of food paired with craft beer before a delightfully early bedtime are all of my favorite parts of long-distance running! He could spare mere seconds for any of this. And what about time for sex with the love of his life? Well, I didn’t ask about that, but with his work schedule, I could make a guess.
So why did he do it? In an interview with Robert Siegel of NPR, he says that ultimately, he just wanted to "find a new level of adventure."
YES!! Which brings me to the best lesson I learned from running with him:
Just keep running.
Scott, thank you for the privilege to catch a tiny glimpse into such a profound personal journey, and sincerest best wishes for all of those to come.
Written by Kali Bird.