Vegan ultra running legend Scott Jurek just ran 2,200 miles to complete his masterpiece. Powered by plants and fighting through a knee injury and then a severe quadricep strain, Jurek set a new supported speed record on the AppalachianTrail (AT) on Sunday at 2:03 pm ET, finishing in 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes. It was a journey of pure determination to complete the 2,189.2-mile route marked by its famed white blazes. He ran well into the dark each night over the notorious slick roots and rocky scrambles of the world’s most famous long-distance footpath that passes between Georgia and Maine. “You have to eventually inhabit a different world. Imagine living a life time of roots and rocks every day, pretty much a life cycle of dirt and vegetation. And toward the end, it was like 500,000 steps sandwiched between a daily birth and death,” says Patagonia ambassador and Paradox Sports co-founder Timmy O’Neill, who worked on Jurek’s support crew and paced him on two sections in New Hampshire and Maine.
The previous record for fastest supported time on the Appalachian Trail had been set by previous Nat Geo Adventurer of the Year Jennifer Pharr Davis at 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes, a mark that seems even more impressive now considering just how hard Jurek, one of the greatest ultrarunners of his generation, had to work to best it. Matt Kirk holds the record for the fastest unsupported time, the classic thru-hiker style, at 58 days, 9 hours, and 38 minutes. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the group that maintains and manages the trail, refuses to officially recognize any speed records. That didn’t seem to matter to the legions of thru-hikers and other fans who met, cheered for and hiked with alongside Jurek on the trail.
“The AT is definitely the ‘granddaddy’ of all long trails; this is the Boston Marathon on long trails,” says Buzz Burrell, ultra-champ and brand manager for Ultimate Direction, whose pack prototype Jurek has used along the whole run. “It’s 2,200 miles long, so naturally it’s a hard record to break! A person who is simply a fast runner or hiker has zero chance–this requires extreme methodicalism, commitment, teamwork, and of course, toughness.”
Jurek, 41, has become a legend in both the ultra running and vegan communities, thanks in big part to his book Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, a statement to the power of dedication, his plant-based diet and how a kid from Minnesotta could work to become the top ultrarunner on the planet. Jurek’s resume includes seven consecutive victories from 1999-2005 in the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, two wins at the Badwater 135 setting a then course record, three consecutive victories at the 153-mile Spartathalon from 2006-2008, and three first place finishes in the Miwok 100. In 2010 he set the American record for most miles run in 24 hours at 165.7. His professional career had slowed down recently, but he intended for the Appalachian Trail speed record to be his “masterpiece,” as he called it, the ultimate finale to an incredible career.
But Jurek was not just interested in another record. He wanted this to be a journey of inspiration. “While a main goal is to complete the trail in record time, my main goal is to inspire others to explore the outdoors and their own personal and life goals,” he said in a press release he put out before setting out from the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain Georgia on May 27. He put up almost daily updates for fans on Facebook and Twitter and they could track him through a Delorme website throughout the trip. It worked. Along the trail, people shouted out encouragement, tried to help his support crew however they could, and handed him vegan snacks to help him along.
His biggest supporter was his wife, Jenny, who ran with him at times, including a trip to the summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, but most of all provided all of the logistics along the way. That was no easy task, mores because of the toll the run took on Jurek, who injured his right knee just 205 miles into the trail and then severely strained his left quadriceps the next day trying to compensate for the pain. “It’s been a very emotional trip,” she says. “It’s so hard to watch a spouse suffer.”
Still Jurek kept running.
He was not alone. Pacers ranging from fellow ultra running legend Karl Metzler to O’Neil and one-armed climber Aron Ralston to local Appalachian Trail legends like Joe Wrobleski leant their aid and ran alongside him. For the final push to the top of Katahdin, former Mountain Hardwear and The North Face president (and accomplished runner himself) Topher Gaylord and Colorado based ultra-champ Krissy Moehl joined him, giving him emotional support very step of the way.
In the end, though, it was Scott Jurek who found the inner power to toil off his career. It was an effort that will be tough to beat, though those he has inspired are sure to try. Most of all, it was an effort that proved pure will can champion over adversity.
“I’m not sure if Scott will ever be the same physically as an athlete, but I feel certain he’s spiritually and intellectually changed forever,” say O’Neill. “After such a beautiful and brutal odyssey that white trail blaze is branded onto his soul.”
- Nat Geo Expeditions