Scott Jurek’s taken a bit of a break from competitive racing. He’s taken an even longer break from the Leadville 100, at which he placed second in 2004, his only running of the race. In the following interview, Scott talks about his time away from racing, what made him choose Leadville as his comeback race, how much longer we might see him race competitively, and what his nutrition will look like on race day.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Scott Jurek Pre-2013 Leadville 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Scott Jurek before the 2013 Leadville 100. First off, Scott, welcome back to the world of competitive ultrarunning. You had a little break away, right?
Scott Jurek: It was a little, short hiatus—a year basically, yeah.
iRF: You ran Chuckanut 50k last year—or was it two years ago?
Jurek: Yeah, two years ago. It was 2011 maybe.
iRF: So last time we saw a lot of you on the race scene was 2010 when you set the American 24-hour record in May, I think it was, right?
iRF: Then you ran White River, and you ran UTMB all in that year.
Jurek: And then a 24-hour late in the season in Taiwan.
iRF: But you’ve kind of taken a break from the competitive scene for a little while. What led to that break? Was it doing the Born to Run thing and then your Eat and Run book?
Jurek: Yeah, I was super busy with writing the book and getting out and promoting and just getting out and running and speaking. It was great. I’d get around across the country to areas I don’t normally get via racing. So it was a lot of fun. It was a lot of work. It would have been really hard to maintain the racing schedule. I have a couple more seasons in me, but I’ve always said that after I turn 40, which is coming towards the end of the year… so next year I’ll put in a season and then I’ll probably retire from the really competitive stuff.
iRF: There have been rumors floating around town that this is the finale, but it’s not the finale. You’ll do a little more racing?
Jurek: I don’t think it’s totally the finale. I still have some desires to do a 24-hour. I still have some unfinished business there. It’s kind of hard picking which races I want to do. There are a lot of great events; there’s a lot of great competition out there. But I had to do the hometown course.
iRF: What drew you to Leadville after so many years, a couple years away, and you have so many opportunities to run what races you’d like?
Jurek: I ran it in 2004 when I did the Grand Slam.
iRF: You were second that year, correct?
Jurek: I was second that year. I ran a decent race. But after running 15:36 at Western States and then running Vermont 100, coming from sea level for eight days at altitude really wasn’t the way to do it. So I’ve always wanted to come back and just do it right.
iRF: What do you think you’re capable of up here? The course is pretty much the same—there’s a little change out by Winfield.
Jurek: Now that I’ve been living at altitude in Boulder (Colorado) and been able to train up high—I’ve been coming up here and spending time in the mountains up high—I’m feeling really good and ready to go. I’ve always had in the back of my mind that sub-16 hours would be super sweet to run here. I feel like everything is ready to go, and if everything lines up then I’ve just got to have a great race.
iRF: You’re looking really fit, and you paced Seb (Chaigneau) up at Hardrock. You ran with Ryan Sandes and he said you were running out here on the course pretty well.
Jurek: Yes, it’s been fun. I’ve always wanted to get back to the San Juans. It was fun hanging out with Seb and running with him. It’s gotten me fired up about racing because I haven’t really raced coming into this one running 50k’s and 50 milers. I feel like I’ve just got to almost save them now with almost 20 years of ultra racing—I’ve got to save those moments. I didn’t want to race too much. I just wanted to train and have a solid build-up.
iRF: You haven’t done any tune-up races?
Jurek: I haven’t besides pacing Seb and being in that element. It’s kind of fun. It’s just a different approach for me. I used to race into shape and do a ton of racing, but I feel like I’ve always been running that fine line. I think that’s a big issue nowadays because there are so many races and so much competition from a lot of guys.
iRF: You can race from January through December which wasn’t the case 10 years ago so much.
Jurek: You could, but you had to chase them.
iRF: You had to search for them.
Jurek: You had to travel a lot and chase the race scene a bit more. Now there are a lot of races you can do quite easily. Yeah, it makes it fun.
iRF: You think back in your days of running Western States, you really were doing a lot of trail stuff. Do you think doing the road 24-hour thing can help you running a race like Leadville? Has it changed your mental approach at all or your ability to suffer?
Jurek: It’s definitely over a lot quicker. There’s that element of not being on your feet for 24 hours. Here at Leadville, you can literally only run the morning hours of darkness and finish before daylight ends. It’s a little different than running 24 hours. I think the mental aspect, too—here you have to run hard, but there are not another eight hours of running. It’s going to be interesting. Then you have the whole altitude factor. Leadville just being the biggest 100 miler in terms of participants—there’s a lot of excitement around it. It’s fun to be back.
iRF: You live in Boulder now. Have you spent time up in Leadville actually living up here for a couple weeks at different times?
Jurek: I’ve been camping. Jenny and I have basically been camping. It was really hard to find a place to rent, so we’re just going to go old-style. Before Western States I always used to camp a week and a half before the race. It was my time to just chill out and unplug for awhile. It’s been fun returning to that. It gets a little trickier with thunderstorms every day and sometimes four to five hours of rain like it had been last week. It was really cold. We even got snow up high here at 12,000 feet here All the peaks were dusted.
iRF: Not that much higher than in town.
Jurek: Yeah, it makes it a bit more interesting.
iRF: A bit more of a challenge. One of the things that’s happened over the last couple of years is that you’ve really turned into an icon of the sport. Is that something you worked toward or was it thrust upon you? You’re really a visible face of ultrarunning at this point.
Jurek: I’ve kind of done my thing over the years. I guess it’s a role I’ve kind of fallen into. I think it’s part of the sport of ultrarunning—giving back to the community. I’ve always been embedded whether it’s volunteering at races or speaking and just running with people and being accessible. I think that’s really the essence of the sport. I think it’s something I’ve done throughout my career. Now maybe with things like Born to Run and even my own book and just that the popularity of the sport has grown. For me, it’s important to get out there and inspire people not just to run ultramarathons but just to have fun with running and eat better and live a better lifestyle. To me I think that’s my more important role versus just being the face of ultrarunning and just to inspire people and to be out in the scene and to have fun. It’s a great community. It’s been special.
iRF: One of the aspects aside from running that you’re really well-known for is your nutrition. What is your nutrition plan for a race like Leadville?
Jurek: I obviously incorporate the sports food. I do the Clif Bloks, the Clif Shot gel, and the drinks. But I’m also doing things like rice balls. I even had a recipe in my book for that. Some people have tried that. I do the bananas, the potatoes, and bean and rice burritos. I like to mix up the real food along with the sports food. Then hydration is really a key in a race like Leadville because you’ve got the altitude factor and the dryness here. Being this high, it’s really easy to lose control of that. A lot of people don’t realize how much fluid they’re going through because it just evaporates so quickly.
iRF: You may never feel you’re sweating.
Jurek: It’s forecasted to be in the low-70s, maybe mid-60s, and it’s really hard at those temps where you feel, Oh, I’m not sweating that much, but you are sweating. So it’s a mix of monitoring the fluids, getting the carbohydrates, and of course doing enough electrolytes to keep balanced, too.
iRF: On the training side, when did you make the switch—you said you couldn’t maintain the balance of doing all the work on your book and training—when did you get back to training mode?
Jurek: Last year I did train, but I just did a lot of fun runs in the mountains. I didn’t really have an agenda. It was definitely more haphazard with nothing specific. I think it refreshed me. So I was getting back basically in January and February and I really got the bug again. That’s hard to do after doing something for 20 years. I love to run and just go out training, but it’s a different element when you have to go and train with a specific agenda and goal in mind. For me, I got fired up about it starting in about January and February. It really started clicking a few months ago when I felt like I was getting back into stride, getting the faster workouts in and the harder workouts in the mountains.
iRF: It must have felt great after you ran so well for so many years in a row that it almost must have been a new feeling to have that progression back into fitness.
Jurek: Yeah, I always enjoyed taking four to six and sometimes eight weeks off every season. I think that’s what’s helped me longevity-wise. I do envy some of the guys like Mike Morton coming back from an eight to 10-year hiatus. I don’t have that much of a break in which you come back even fresher. But a year break has been good even though it’s been a different stress on the body—a different ultramarathon so to speak—with traveling and speaking and different things I did. It’s been fun.
iRF: Do you have any certain workout or run or week that you did feel, “I’m on again. I’m there.”
Jurek: Actually, a week and a half ago I did a 40-mile run up here, and I was just feeling like, Okay, things are clicking and I’m ready to race hard. I’ve felt that way for the past six to eight weeks. Pacing at Hardrock 100 was another indication with being up high consistently and running all night long and running 44 miles of that course just gave me confidence that I’m ready to go.
iRF: Leadville is a big mix of road and trail and flat and descent. What shoes are you going to lace up?
Jurek: I’m going to run in the Brooks Pure Grit 2. It’s really kind of the perfect mix for this type of course. In a lot of ways, it’s a good mix of everything I’ve been doing over the past 10 years of mountain trails, singletrack, dirt roads, two-track, to even paved roads. So I think it’s a good mix. As much as the minimalist trend, it’s always been about that fine balance. I’ve raced in racing flats for all of my road ultramarathons and even some of my trail stuff. I think it’s got the great mix of being low-profile, not too much of a shoe, but enough to add enough cushioning and protection with that nice, rugged outsole.
iRF: Good, long downhills.
Jurek: Yeah, it will be fun.
iRF: Well have fun out there, Scott. Good seeing you around.
Jurek: Thanks, it’s great to be back.
iRF: Hopefully we’ll see you around for another year or two.
Jurek: Oh, yeah. I’ve got another season or so in me for sure.
iRF: Cool. One bonus question for you, Scott, from a reader: are you doing to wear a headband on Saturday? You are shorn.
Jurek: Yeah, I’m going full, old-school bandana—red bandana style.
iRF: Red bandana, alright.
Jurek: Yeah, I’m bringing it back. I used to race in it.