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Born This Way: National Running Day with Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek

National Running Day events are inspiring to everyone!By Kristy Ojala
Editor of Tips on Healthy Living

Happy National Running Day! By now, you might be a little sick of hearing about this so-called holiday (and some of you would prefer to dwell on National Donut Day, or both). But listen, we runners need a little recognition. It’s a humble endeavor, one often carried out alone, in the wee hours of the morning, on a treadmill at lunch, or squeaked in on a darkening park path just before dinnertime. But I’d like to share how one man saved my running life last night.

On the eve of this cardio holiday, my friend Emily and I suited up to join the pitter-patter of roughly 100 awesome pairs of sneakered and bare feet, including those of ultramarathoner Scott Jurek and bestselling Born to Run author Chris McDougall, who were leading a “fun run” through Central Park in honor of Scott’s brand-new book Eat and Run. Passersby gawked, wondering what celebrity could possibly be holding court. I marveled at the electricity in the air as we gathered to hear Scott and Chris chat before the run. They’d already done a 50K loop of the entirety of Manhattan in the morning, but still looked lean, mean, and fresh, joking with one another and thanking the group for turning out. I worried what a “fun run” meant to these dudes.

Scott Jurek and Born to Run author Chris McDougall lead a National Running Day event in Central Park

Scott’s orange singlet turned into a tiny beacon shortly after we took off, heading into the cool evening. Emily and I trained with the NYC Athleta store back in the winter, and remarked on how much more pleasant it is to run in Central Park without four layers, blistering wind, and runny, red noses. We mingled with a Nike Run Club group up the hill toward the reservoir, then peeled off to give our knees a respite on the gravel loop. As the geese serenely plunged into the water next to us, I could see Jurek leading the way in a half-crescent around the lake, like a super-healthy Pied Piper and his wannabe healthy minions. My pace quickened—largely because there was a “moany-mony” behind us—one of those runners who moans and heaves with every step as if they are being beaten by Satan himself. Being in front of such a runner makes me feel like I, too, may be at death’s door, and therefore I need to run as quickly as possible to get the hell away from the moany-mony. (Note to self: Hire one of these types for upcoming races, watch PRs pile up.)

At just over 4 miles (whew) our super-serene jog ended back at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, where Scott, Chris, Scott’s co-author Steve Friedman, and actor Peter Sarsgaard (who is adapting Born to Run for the big screen) were gathered for a reading and panel sponsored by JackRabbit Sports. Not everyone in the crowd had run. They had to sit next to those of us who did. Can you say “poor man’s shower”? I marveled at the packed room, all of us there to listen to a formerly shy kid with scoliosis, now a pin-thin, muscled vegan who runs 100 miles a pop—and wins.

VIDEO: Eat and Run Book Trailer

The ever-affable Jurek began with a brief reading from his new book, a passage discussing the hazards of ultra-running. I most likely will never know them personally, but they apparently involve a lot of throwing up, dehydration, and hiding the evidence from your fellow competitors, while also sort of needing said competitors to harass you into staying upright. I can’t wait to read Eat and Run, especially since I’ve drastically reduced my meat and dairy intake since last fall. (His recipes seem great for us runners with fussy stomachs; I’m dying to make the Chocolate Adzuki Bars as a pre-run snack.)

Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek speaks about his new book Eat and Run at a reading in New York City sponsored by Jackrabbit Sports

The panel was hilarious, with McDougall exposing Sargaard’s chafing issues from that morning’s ultra and ribbing Friedman (an excellent sports writer with a notorious reputation) for being a modelizer. A very svelt Sarsgaard, who said he had a healthy epiphany two and a half years ago, noted that though he’s lived in NYC for years, his morning run with Jurek revealed parts of the city he’d never seen before. Jurek tweeted a photo of him during the 50K, calling him a natural ultrarunner:

The audience asked a few questions about running injuries and Jurek’s recommendations for a first ultra (nary a single query for the celebrity on the panel, because the runner was the star tonight). I was struck by the sheer humility of Jurek, and the ease at which runners relate to other runners. His relatively young career is built around helping his running fans find their inner hero: You may not ever do an ultra, but we all have a way to tap into our inner potential and make it reality.

Two weeks ago, I began training for my first marathon. While Scott’s many ultramarathon victories (up to 165 miles in 24 hours, 100+ miles in conditions that would make a cactus weep) make 26.2 miles look like picking up the TV remote, I found it hugely inspiring to see how the runners in the room responded to his refusal to let his high blood pressure, his dying mother, his scoliosis, his crap diet, stop him from going the distance. And in light of new evidence that just 15 minutes of running can add 5 or 6 years to your life, why not lace up today?

Happy trails!

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