Scott Jurek has had a long, diverse, and successful trail and ultrarunning career, and his latest feat, resetting the supported speed record for the Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States, could be considered a capstone to his running resume. In this in-depth, 55-minute interview, hear all the ins and outs of Scott’s record attempt and what this effort means to him.
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Scott Jurek Post-Appalachian Trail Speed Record Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Scott Jurek in Salt Lake City after his record-breaking run on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Congratulations on that, Scott.
Scott Jurek: Thanks. It was quite the adventure.
iRunFar: I bet. You’ve been running for two-plus decades. Does anything come even close to the adventure level of the AT?
Jurek: Nothing, at least in my career, has ever come close to that. Just the amount of physical, mental, and even beyond what it required in some ways didn’t surprise me because I knew what an endeavor it was, but it also just… yeah, nothing else compares. It was amazing.
iRunFar: I’m sure before, you tried to wrap your head around what it would be like, what the experience would be like. Was it anything like you thought it would be?
Jurek: Somewhat. I’ve crewed for David Horton for two weeks when he did his Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) FKT. I’m definitely a student of the sport. I’ve read a ton about FKT’s as well as adventure/through-hikes and runs and have always just been mesmerized by the through-hiking culture as well. I’m somebody who loves to backpack and have spent time doing section hikes. Jenny [Jurek] and I have done a lot of time on the PCT. So, I’ve really had the utmost respect for all those who come before me and have read as much as I could. You still can’t prepare for everything. That’s the cool aspect of it, the adventure, the adversity, and the challenges that pop up. You just never know what’s going to be around the corner.
iRunFar: What is the adversity? Is it figuring out acute problem solving, or is it dealing with weather? What were the biggest challenges out there?
Jurek: I think you’re always doing acute situations that come up, and then you have these ongoing things. For me, one of the biggest challenges was seven days in, I had some patello-femoral pain that was really irritating me. That progressively got worse. Then I’m compensating on my other side, and my quad gets a significant tear. I’ve never had… I’ve had light strains before mid-run or training and racing, but this was so painful. So basically, I have two bad legs. I’m not longer able to even limp. So I’m trying to get down the trail. At that point, seven days in, I thought, This is over. There’s no way. How am I going to continue with two bad legs? How is this injury going to recover and still stay on record pace? That was probably one of the biggest challenges, but there are small mini-challenges along the way like the weather. The day-to-day sleep deprivation towards the end was just mind-boggling for me. I’ve never experienced that before in my career. That was a totally new experience. Little things pop up. You’re dealing with little injuries that you’re trying to manage. They’re not serious like the ones I had initially, but little things pop up. You take falls; then you’re bruised.
iRunFar: And then you’re compensating.
Jurek: Yeah, you’re just beat up. It really strips you down to the core. I had heard that. People told me, “You’ll go through challenges you’ve never seen before. You’ll be a changed person.” All those things came true, but no matter what you read and how much you prepare for it and research, you just have to go with it. I think that’s what I love about the sport, too.
iRunFar: Having just gone through the Hardrock experience, that changes you. How many times have you had those experiences in ultrarunning where you go through this new challenge and come out the other side a different person?
Jurek: Yeah, and realizing, Wow, I’m stronger than I thought I was. It never ceases to amaze me. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned on this experience, this trip, this adventure is I kind of think, Okay, I’ve kind of reached that point where nothing would amaze me. But I’m blown away that I could get something like that, and the potential for the human body and the mind and all the things we can deal with—it still can be a little bit more.
iRunFar: Did that happen to you at your first great Western States or setting the 24-hour record. Did you ever have that same feeling?
Jurek: I think so. Definitely early in my career, maybe you don’t appreciate it on the same level. I was still young. I was a 25 year-old when I first won Western States. You’re just really trying to tweak all the little nuances of the run and your strategy and your nutrition. So for me, I didn’t really think of things on the larger scale, whereas on the 24-hour, at that point in my career, I was like, Wow, I got through that. At 18 hours, I thought, I’m done. I’m finished. On the AT, there were so many days where I was like, Why am I doing this? This is stupid. I could be home now…
iRunFar: How do you get through the “why am I doing this moments,” because there had to be… not every day, but I’m sure there was like a whole day…?
Jurek: It just comes up. I think the biggest thing is recognizing that it’s a normal reaction. Having emotional reactions to adversity or down moments or those valleys or low points, but trying to spin those in the other direction—I think that what’s really key. It’s okay to feel demoralized. It’s okay to feel like you can’t go on. But you have to start thinking about Why am I here? What’s most important to me? Use the draw of getting to Katahdin, getting to the finish line as the motivator. How can I break it down into smaller chunks? If I start thinking, I still have 2,000 miles to go, or I still have 1,000 miles to go, or even half way, I still have 1,100 miles to go… it’s breaking things down into smaller, more manageable goals. Once you do that, it helps take your mind off. But the thoughts are going to creep up. I remember, too, that I want that adventure. As much as the pain, the struggle is something that doesn’t seem natural, because it isn’t, we’re doing these things, and you don’t have to do them. You can stop at any point.
iRunFar: You’re doing this by choice.
Jurek: There’s something drawing you inside. That’s when I would use motivators like I’d remember my mother who had passed away. I’d remember the fact that she couldn’t move a lot of parts of her body or any part of her body towards the end of her life. I’m able to run. I’m able to move my body. Yeah, I hurt. Yeah, I’ve got some things to deal with, but overall, I’m alive and overall pretty healthy.
iRunFar: Did you have any other motivators like that, things you could draw on when you were starting to go to that dark place to pull yourself out?
Jurek: Yeah, Jenny was a huge motivator for me, too. She’s gone through some health things over the year and just recently had a miscarriage. I definitely drew on how strong she had been through that process and just kind of like, life gets tough and throws us curveballs and challenges we had to deal with and just using her as inspiration. Then other people came out on the trail, too. It was, at times, crazy both for Jenny who was managing the crew aspects, and I, but people were really supportive. I think that was really unique. It was an interesting component to this adventure. You don’t typically have somebody, much less have 20-30 people running with you at a time, but it also kind of took my mind off of how bad I was hurting. Sometimes an individual was a forester, and they’d tell me about the trees. I’d be like, “Hey, does anybody know about the history of the area?” I wasn’t into all the time focusing on questions they had. “You guys talk for a little bit because I’m kind of tired.”
iRunFar: Do people understand that? You were being self-centered at that moment but understandably so.
Jurek: Yeah, I think they totally got it, I think, for the most part. For a lot of people… it was a unique experience for all of us. It was a bit strange because most of the time in a race, it’s not like you have people join you at any point. This was a 46 day endeavor. But it did help me, again, whether it was somebody like, “Hey, Scott, you motivated me. I started running,” or “I got off the couch, and I’ve lost 50 pounds.” Just that little story would inspire me to press forward. Sometimes they’d come out to the trail and not even run. They’d just be out there to cheer. That was a cool aspect of the run.
iRunFar: Did you think about carrying that forward? Previously you’ve inspired somebody to get off the couch or do this or get in better shape, but by doing the AT and setting the FKT you would do the same again and have another bit of inspiration?
Jurek: Yeah, whether or not I… for me, I was going to finish no matter what. I was going to get to Katahdin. Well, not maybe no matter what, but pretty close. If I had to crawl there, I was going to do it. The record, that was always in the balance and never knew. For a lot of people, they would… a lot of times I wouldn’t get to read social media. I didn’t have time out there. Jenny would read me some people’s comments. That did inspire me on. People are like, “Hey, you’re inspiring me.” That’s something, most of the time, 20 years ago we weren’t able to have that live, “Yeah, you’re inspiring me right now,” as you’re out there.
iRunFar: Some pats on the back.
Jurek: It definitely spurred me on to know that people were not only just psyched and motivated and following me and kind of getting that experience of the play-by-play action, but they were actually inspired at that moment. That helped me to continue, too.
iRunFar: What inspired you to get out there in the first place?
Jurek: For me it was just the history. I’ve always wanted to do a through-hike, multi-day adventure. I knew at some point I’d do one of the national scenic trails. Just the history of the AT inspired me. I’d never been on the AT besides JFK, the 15 or 14 miles, eight miles in Pennsylvania, a few miles with David Horton in Virginia, and another time… literally maybe 30-some miles I was on the trail. That, to me, was a true adventure. I think that’s what captivated me. I’d read all of the history and the accounts and the through-hikers. Scott Williamson was a huge inspiration yo-yoing the PCT. Helping David Horton on his attempt, that really just kind of spurred me to want to try one of these. I knew I had to find the time in my career where it made sense. I think having the wisdom and having the base, I think that’s why I bounced back from the injury was having that base. My body knew how to heal itself while I was still moving. I was walking and not running for two days, but it made sense to do it at this point in my career. Like I said, I was super inspired by everyone who went before me including Jenn [Pharr-Davis] and Andrew Thompson and Pete Palmer. These individuals inspired me to, Okay, what can I do on the AT? It’s cool because the through-hiking culture really started on the AT. That was a unique element, too. I wanted to experience that. Maybe I was moving with a different strategy—longer days, maybe a little bit faster when I could run. I had through-hikers join me sometimes for five miles, up to 18 miles. That was a lot of fun just to experience as much as I could without, unfortunately, sleeping in shelters and hanging out with them and enjoying that.
iRunFar: So you’re joining with through-hikers at points; you were one of them. Did you get a trail name?
Jurek: I went by El Venado. Caballo Blanco gave me that trail name when I was down in the Copper Canyon just because I would get time to converse with them, and I’d sign in at logbooks in the shelters, I’d talk to through-hikers on the trail, but I never got the opportunity or maybe they didn’t get the opportunity to know a personality trait or something like, “Okay, you’re this.” But towards the end of the trip, I did have a through-hiker call me the Web-Walker because I was clearing spider webs basically in the morning, and then I was also clearing spider webs at night because they were already putting them up. I was out on the trail at 9, 10, 11 o’clock and beyond, and there were spider webs out there already.
iRunFar: You were doing a service to the other through-hikers.
Jurek: Exactly. It seemed fitting. I guess Web-Walker would be my second trail name or maybe my given trail name on the AT.
iRunFar: A tradition with FKT’s is getting in touch with the person who holds the record if you have an intention to go for it. Did you get in touch with Jennifer Pharr-Davis beforehand?
Jurek: Yeah, so Jenn and I have known each other. I wrote a blurb for her book. I’ve gotten to hang out and talk to her at Outdoor Retailer every year. I, again, have had immense respect. Everybody is like, “Oh, it’s amazing.” It truly is amazing, I think, what she did on that trail. I was reminded of it all the time. I left her a message. We actually didn’t get to speak, but we exchanged voicemails before I started. I really kept it on the downlow before I started. I didn’t want a lot of hype beforehand. I wanted to share the experience while I was out there, but I didn’t want this big to-do and too much talk beforehand. I just wanted to go down and do it. I called her a couple days before, but unfortunately we just exchanged voicemails. I’m excited to catch up with her and share war stories, I guess.
iRunFar: Did you ever feel like you were racing her? You knew the record was out there. It was in your mind.
Jurek: Oh yeah, the thing with doing an FKT or having a goal pace for any endeavor—so for a lot of people out there, maybe they’re not breaking the records, maybe they’re not winning, but they have a goal—that goal for me was to see how fast I could go. I felt like a lot of people. We all think records can be pushed further. Jenn’s, I knew, was going to be a very stout record to beat, but it was something pulling me along the way. I don’t think I would have gotten two hours of sleep the last three or four nights if that record wasn’t looming over me. I didn’t know until really essentially the base of Katahdin and that last five miles that I could break it. It was in the balance throughout so many points. Seven days in it was like, Record’s gone. I’m… 31 miles today, I walked 37 miles the next day, and 39 miles the following day. At that point I’d already lost a day on my pace. I still was on record pace potentially, but again, going northbound was an unknown element. I knew how she had performed going south along with those accounts of Andrew’s attempt, but going north was another element. So it was always this thing of it was driving me forward and pushing me to maybe go harder, faster, and also longer. I just spent more and more time on the trail. That’s where sleep became almost thrown out the window. I couldn’t waste anymore time.
iRunFar: So you had a down point when you injured your leg. Did you have another when you saw yourself fall below her pace—what was seeming like slower than her pace with a week to go? From afar, it seemed like you were moving slower than you were earlier on.
Jurek: Yeah, because all through Virginia and Pennsylvania I was gaining ground. I had essentially gained back a day. I was putting in huge days—59, 58, 56 miles continuously. I was really feeling good. Then all of the sudden I get to Vermont—record rainfall. The trail conditions, as hard as they normally are, just got that much harder. I started having to spend longer on the trail in Vermont. That set me up for… I was still on my calculated days, but I was out there longer. The sleep deprivation along with having a stomach bug for two or three days, I just wasn’t feeling right. My energy was lower. I felt a little feverish. That hit me right at that point when I was sleep deprivation and going slower in Vermont. All of the sudden I go into the hardest point, New Hampshire and Maine, just at an even lower… that’s when things fell apart and I lost so much time. I tried staying on pace and did a 26-hour day, and at that point, the sleep deprivation was adding up. It was a huge blow to now all of the sudden lose all that ground I’d made up and now it was a matter of hours or potentially not even breaking the record. I remember one point in Maine five days before I finished, I was just telling Jenny and my buddy, Timmy, “It’s gone. I screwed up. I should have changed my strategy and just killed a day and gotten better rest and sleep.” You think through your mind, I could have done things differently, but it’s gone. I’m going to get to Katahdin, and then, of course, I had some other friends come in and say, “No, you’re going to get this record, you’re just not going to sleep.”
iRunFar: You talk about the sleep deprivation, but as someone who has known you for a long time and seen you very fit, you looked absolutely wasted. You’re a skinny guy to begin with, but from the outside or just seeing pictures, it was scary. Did Jenny and some of your other friends come to you with worry?
Jurek: Definitely people made a lot of comments. Jenny would follow it a little bit more. Friends who had come in or they had seen pictures of me before and knew what I looked like—that was probably the contrast. But, again, endeavors like these… I think because I had more photos on social media and more people meeting… Andrew didn’t have that happen. Jenn didn’t really have that happening as much. I think if somebody had taken a picture of them when they were down at their worst as well as the second half of their endeavor like that… same with Karl [Meltzer], you’re going to get to a point… some people lose more weight. I’m 173-175 pounds typically. When I’m really in good 100 mile shape, I’m 165-162. I came into this knowing I’m going to lose weight. You’re basically on your feet for 16-18 and more hours per day. You’re eating as much as you can. I’m putting in 3,000 calories of all the Clif products I can possibly think of that I’ve ever used, but then I’m putting in 3,000 more calories at meal times or when I could get other food or smoothies or tons of fat. You’re going to lose body weight. For so many people, they’re like, “Oh, it’s scary,” but I had enough to lose.
iRunFar: You know that’s going to happen, but you were getting up to that line.
Jurek: Well, and it is scary. When I looked or would feel my back, I’m like, Oh, I can feel my vertebrae and all these bones that usually have a little bit layer of fat in between. It’s kind of at that extreme. It’s even more than expeditions because you have rest days or times when you’re sitting in a tent. For me, there were no down days for the most part. I had to either put in longer days, get less sleep, or just spend more time on the trail. That’s going to deplete you. I’m bouncing back. People say I’m looking a little bit more normal.
iRunFar: You do. You look healthy. You didn’t look healthy three weeks ago.
Jurek: I don’t have facial hair accentuating that my cheekbones were starting to show and things like that. Yeah, there are some scarier photos where I’m like, “Whoa, I was really…”
iRunFar: You were also sleep deprived…
Jurek: I’ve never seen myself at 153 pounds. That was kind of crazy.
iRunFar: So you get to the base of Katahdin. You have a couple hours to go. You know you’re going to make it. Is that when a wave of emotion hits you or is it the whole climb or is it hitting the top? When do you start getting that elation?
Jurek: I think definitely it was at the base, but also, with the sleep deprivation and emotionally I’m on a roller coaster leading into it, but definitely the really big turning point was getting from Abol Bridge to Baxter State Park and basically the approach trail because that was going to be 10 miles of unknown. People said it was good running, but I’d also heard “it was good running” at other points when it wasn’t. It actually turned into where I did that in 2 hours and 40 minutes. That was a huge changeover from going 1-2 miles/hour previously the night before. That was the turning point getting there and knowing I had a cushion here. It was Jenny’s birthday, and it was like, “We’re just going to go for a birthday hike with a bunch of friends.” I had a few folks that were helping me in Maine that were just local trail runners that were super supportive. I was thankful to have them. I had my other buddies—Krissy [Moehl] was out, and Topher and Kim Gaylord—people who had seen me those last four or five days. It was just like this big Sunday birthday hike we were going on. It was kind of cool even though I was totally spent, totally sleep deprived, the adrenaline kicked in. I went up that climb at a nice, solid pace, but just hanging out with my friends. I think that was one of the most memorable points as far as savoring that, not being pushed to the edge—I’ve got to get every little second on this climb. That would have been rough. People were wondering if it was going to be that much of a nail-biter, but it was down to just a few hours.
iRunFar: You weren’t pushing it for every second once you knew…?
Jurek: Yeah, I was just… it needed to be a steady pace, but anybody who has climbed Katahdin knows that it’s full on, at times, climbing moves. There’s a stretch there of a mile where it’s really rugged. You’re stemming between rocks and grabbing onto hooks that are screwed into rock. It’s not just a nice switchback trail. You’re just going straight up this mountain face. To do that and know that I didn’t have to make every second count, to know that I could just do a solid pace and just steady up to the top… it was pretty surreal. Seeing the summit and people had been up there waiting for me because, of course, they could follow on the tracker. It was neat to see. It was really a fun culmination of events. There was a trail work crew out there, I remember, they were all celebratory. I got to talk to them for a second. I wasn’t forced to be on point and on target. I think that’s what the whole journey… Karl was joking with me because he came out and crewed with me for two weeks. He was like, “You’ve got to stop taking photos. You’ve got to stop talking to people.”
iRunFar: That’s Karl.
Jurek: Different approaches. For me, I wasn’t taking the approach that every second counted throughout the whole run. Maybe that got me into trouble. Maybe that wasn’t the best strategy, but for me, it was the experience I wanted to have.
iRunFar: It also doesn’t give you positive emotional feedback having…
Jurek: That’s the thing. Where does the line… I think there are different styles to doing a record attempt or even a through-hike. You can hike it; you can run-hike it like Jenn. There are different approaches. I think that’s what I love about it, too. You can go north, you can go south. I did some things that maybe weren’t the best strategy…
iRunFar: Like going south to north?
Jurek: Exactly, as I realized once I got out there. Had I seen New Hampshire and Maine, I’d have been like, “I’ve got to get this over with,” or I may have been like, “Let’s do the PCT or some other trail,” because it really blew me away how difficult the trail. Mad props to the East Coast runners as well as the Northeast, even Pennsylvania. It was really fun to not know what was coming ahead, but it was also demoralizing sometimes especially when I got to New Hampshire. I knew it was going to be tough. I’d seen photos. But when I was actually on there, I was, “Wow, maybe I should have gone southbound.” For me, it was about aesthetics. I wanted to experience the trail the way most through-hikers go. Ideally it would have been running/walking with spring, but that was the time of year I could do it. It was an unreal and surreal experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s hard to think, Could I have done things differently, because, for me, I wanted to do things a certain way, and I had a great experience. Thanks to all the people who were out there supporting me because it was a blast.
iRunFar: You had Karl out there. He’s given a couple goes at the AT, record attempts. I’m sure the people like him will go for your record. Is it weird having that target on your back? It’s not like one day a year when you had the Western States target—who’s going to run fast this day?
Jurek: Yeah, for me, I guess I’ve been at this sport long enough to know that records are meant to be broken, and for me, if someone broke it this year, hats off to them. I’d be psyched. For me, just to do what I did whether I accomplished the record, just getting through the injuries, getting through the challenges and just making it to Katahdin was a feat much like for a lot of the through-hikers because there are so many things that can happen. You can get an injury that takes you out of the game. You can get sick. Some through-hikers have to leave the trail. For me, it’s not like I put the bar up way high. It was only by a few hours. Karl would tell me it’s a stout record regardless—what Jennifer did and what Andrew did. There is always going to be someone along the way who will push the bar up further. I think it definitely can be done. Again with a record attempt like that on a through-hike that’s so long, things are going to happen. If everything were to go right, I think people could take maybe a couple days off the record. Again, things have to go right.
iRunFar: That’s a long time.
Jurek: Chances are there are going to be some things that are going to go wrong to where you’re going to have to take some lower mileage days. It’s just kind of natural. I think everybody experiences that. Somebody might get lucky where the stars align, the weather is perfect, the trail conditions are perfect and we’ll see it. I think that’s what’s fun about it. I look forward to it.
iRunFar: As you were talking earlier, you have perspective now, maybe more than you did when you were running Western States, at least the first couple. You’re 41. You probably think about your place in running a little bit more. You have seven Western States wins. You won a couple Spartathlons in a row. You have the 24-hour record. You have this. Was this an exclamation point on the end of your career? Where does it rank in that pantheon of achievements?
Jurek: For me, it ranks up there as one of the best and may have been at times the worst experiences in that it was so difficult, so tough, but for me to get through what I did as well as with Jenny because it is a team effort. Having the support crew, having people from Karl to Krissy to my friends that came out and supported me was… kind of makes it even more special. Definitely not only the hardest challenge, but something that ranks up there as maybe not an exclamation mark but maybe something I will remember for the rest of my life. There are just so many experiences and so many challenges; it’s really this epic adventure in a way versus a race. It was just about going out there and seeing how my body as well as my mind could deal with all the challenges. Definitely an adventure like that… and that kind of sums up why I do this sport—I want to be out there in the woods and in the mountains challenging myself and just being open to adversity and what it might throw at me. How do I deal with that?
iRunFar: Does it inspire you to do anything else in that vein whether as a very fast attempt or going out with Jenny for a week on the JMT or something?
Jurek: Yeah, we definitely want to do the whole PCT and dedicate the time. Sometimes I was out there thinking, Gosh, we could have just done the PCT in three to four months and taken this time. I dedicated a month to this fast pace and having all this support with her and a lot of logistics. But at the end of the day, I’m glad I had this experience, but I’m looking forward just to doing some adventure runs and hikes and not have that pressure. I think a lot of people assume that’s what I’m all about all the time. Some in the hiking community are like, “Oh, he didn’t get to enjoy it,” but the great thing is we do different paces and we do different challenges for different reasons. For this adventure, I wanted to push those boundaries. I knew I was going to suffer. I knew I was going to hurt. I knew it was going to take a lot of demands from a support crew. The next time I go out and do something it will be self-supported and carrying everything on my back. I love to do that. That’s the great thing. As ultrarunners and trail runners, we do different events and different challenges for different reasons, and we do them at different speeds and different approaches. We can have fun no matter which way we do it. With some, there is some elective suffering going on there.
iRunFar: You mentioned some of the hikers wondering about whether you are getting to enjoy the experience. I know when Karl did it, there were some pretty vocal people and vitriolic people like, “You’re not doing it the right way.” Did you get any of that or hear of any of that while you were out on the trail?
Jurek: For the most part, it was really cool to see how supportive… 99% of the through-hikers out there were… maybe people say, “Well, they were mostly young,” but I actually had people of all ages who were super psyched. They were following Instagram. They were following on social media. It’s crazy because the AT gets so much reception whereas on certain trails you don’t get that. So they were following along. Like I said, the cool thing was they’d join me. I had one guy run with a 30 pound pack for 18 miles with me. He sent me a message on Facebook saying that was the coolest part of the trip or one of his highlights even though he crumpled up in discomfort afterwards. But some people would come along and join me. I think that’s a testament to most people. There are always going to be people where the approach I had was different than they feel was the “true ethos” of the trail, but a lot of times I was moving as fast or maybe some people would say, as slow as through-hikers…
iRunFar: The same speed.
Jurek: The same speed and not necessarily any faster. I ran when I could run, but a lot of times I was moving at three miles per hour or sometimes less, two miles per hour. Maybe I didn’t carry my home on my back and that sort of part, but I just was out there longer. Again Jenn Pharr-Davis, she’s an avid through-hiker and has done the trail where she carried everything, but she also did two record attempts. You just have different experiences. One isn’t necessarily better than the other; you’re just choosing different styles at different points. I feel like I enjoyed the trail as well as took in the trail just as much as anyone else. Some might argue that I was running at night and hiking at night when a lot of people have called it good at 7 o’clock.
iRunFar: And only see the trail during the day.
Jurek: During the day. I saw it, because a lot of times I’d see through-hikers hunkered down in the pouring rain and huge storms, and I’d be out there having to put miles in. So I think I experienced the full range of things, it’s just more compacted. I saw the wildlife. I picked out the little red eft lizards [Editor’s note: The red eft is the juvenile terrestrial life stage of the red-spotted newt—they’re salamanders. J] that are two inches long on the ground. You see and feel and smell things much like any other through-hiker. I think it’s unfortunate when there’s this battle of “What is the true way?” “How fast should you go?” “What is the speed limit for the AT?” “Is there a certain ethic?” I think the main ethic is that we travel lightly on the land and we all respect the land and encourage others to do the same and encourage other people to get out and explore wild places whether that means one-half mile per hour or three, four, five miles per hour running. We’re all foot travel users. That’s what I think is kind of funny. There’s no argument there.
iRunFar: Speaking of rules, was it a buzz kill… you finish, you have your birthday experience with Jenny, you finish, you set the record, and then shortly thereafter, the whole Baxter State Park things happens?
Jurek: Yeah, I mean, it’s unfortunate that an individual or group of individuals had to… I think they just used… I’ve said this in my own blog as to what really happened. I’ve described that. So without going into detail, I just feel it’s unfortunate that somebody used my experience to stomp all over it and basically stand on my shoulders to say, “Here’s the bone we have to pick with the AT through-hikers.” They’ve obviously had a big beef to pick with them in the past. There’s a long history. I was basically, “Oh, let’s take this guy. He’s not doing it the way that we like it, and he’s also doing the things that the through-hikers do that we don’t like,” although it was just a couple of things. They had this long list of things they don’t like. But, yeah, I think it’s unfortunate that it was used in that way whereas we could have done something like, “Hey, you probably shouldn’t have champagne at the top.”
iRunFar: You would have put it back in the backpack.
Jurek: Yeah, exactly, yeah. Why not do it that way? Or why not work with me to say, let the rest of the… I don’t know how many more through-hikers… I was 40-something on the finish list for 2015, so there is going to be another 600-800 through-hikers that were going to finish. Why not send a message, “Hey guys, save the party for later somewhere else and not the top of Katahdin?” But instead, there was no education behind it. It was just trying to take me down a notch. Again, I’m super happy with my accomplishment. Maybe things could have gone differently at the very end. Maybe an organization like Baxter State Park could have chosen a different route. But anybody who knows me and knows what I stand for, I’m not going to desecrate wilderness, or I’m not going to have some party at the top. Again, I couldn’t control who showed up at the top of the mountain. To say I had more than the group size… really, I followed the rules, but they got me on a couple of nuances and…
iRunFar: Littering with champagne on the rocks?
Jurek: On the rocks, yeah. Again, here’s the…
iRunFar: If somebody discreetly pees on the side of Katahdin, is that littering?
Jurek: It’s a liquid. People spill sports drinks, or maybe they bring soda at the top. Is that littering? Again, we’re getting into details, but Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson at the top of Half Dome [Editor’s Note: Dawn Wall] on a National Park in a National Wilderness, they cracked two bottles of champagne and champagne is going all over. The National Park Service does nothing, but Baxter State park decides to…
iRunFar: So maybe it’s a good lesson to everybody to maybe think about what they’re doing and how it can be perceived whereas…
Jurek: Sure, yeah, if there was… again, if I felt… not to say that just because I was sleep deprived and all these things, but one of my crew members had asked a couple park rangers at the bottom, “Hey, I have a couple bottles of champagne, is it okay I few have them?” “Yeah, just keep it away from kids and families.” So, it’s one of those things where I didn’t think I was breaking the rules but, again, if I had, we could have easily sent a better message to individuals. But yeah, in terms of the perception of people, I don’t think having social media involved and letting people track my journey and getting people inspired to explore the outdoors is a bad thing. Some people have this really extreme view of conservationism where they’d rather have no humans walk on any of the land and just let it return to “normal.” But to me, humans have been walking the earth for eons. Getting more people to understand the value of those places and doing it in a fashion that doesn’t have a huge impact really sends a message.
iRunFar: Yeah, and if you don’t have people on the trails or experiencing the wilderness, who’s going to protect the wilderness?
Jurek: Exactly, and where is the value? A lot of land, including Baxter State Park, a lot of people don’t realize, is where a lot of logging occurs. They have snow machines run through there in the winter. So if you’re going to complain about a little champagne on the rocks, you’ve got to look at some other issues.
iRunFar: You’ve got to look at some priorities, yeah.
Jurek: Again, it’s semantics and it’s unfortunate, but…
iRunFar: Was the ATC supportive?
Jurek: It’s been mixed from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). I’m a member. Even being in the Rockies, I’ve been a member for a lot of years. The ATC, basically I try and support the National Scenic Trails organizations. It was amazing. When I went through Harpers Ferry, all these employees came out and ran with me, and interns. They were really psyched about the whole thing until the whole issue of Baxter State Park and where that kind of falls in line. So I think they’ve kind of taken a stance, a pretty hard line stance, which I think is kind of unfortunate, but I get it. It’s all politics. Where it’s going to go, it’s hard to say. Really, again, I think it would be a shame for them to move the terminus. The ATC is obviously working on that. I would find it hard to believe. Again, the state of Maine is very supportive of the AT. It’s just a couple individuals whose viewpoint is different.
iRunFar: That’s interesting. It’s such tradition and history. It’s Katahdin.
Jurek: Yeah, it is. I think, again, it’s just like, “Why don’t we work together?” I think the ATC is trying to work with Baxter State Park as well as with the different organizations and land management groups.
iRunFar: I think if the issue got out far enough… one thing I read was Baxter State Park saying, “We don’t have enough funds that are commensurate with the AT through-hikers.” But people could raise… if that became the issue, there are enough people who care enough about the AT and Katahdin being the finish that, make it happen.
Jurek: Yeah, well, I don’t know. I’d almost have to argue… because a lot of people have family members or friends that pay entrance fees to hike with them to the top when they finish, so I don’t know really how much… That’s the thing–Baxter State Park would really have to show us that there’s a really financial burden and resource burden on the park because we’re still talking about numbers of people that probably bring money into the park. Like you said, there are other ways of solving that issue. I just really highly doubt… Again, all the through-hikers that I met, they’re out there out there experiencing the trail, and they want to take care of it, too. I think they’re just as close to nature as people who are sitting in offices and trying to manage a park. Even if you look at the great conservationists and those who encourage us to get out, from John Muir to others, their whole thing is you’ve got to be out there in nature. To me, a through-hiker is the epitome of that because they’re out there day after day after day, so I would think they have just as much appreciation if not more than any other individual who is out day-hiking. It’s kind of unfortunate because what pressures do the day-hikers put on the trails and the resources in the park?
iRunFar: Probably the same number of feet.
Jurek: Again, we should be working together and doing things in a positive way. I think all people can enjoy the wilderness in the way they need to within the bounds of impact.
iRunFar: You’ve already been out in the wilderness again. I can’t believe it.
Jurek: Well, it was a little forced active recovery, but it was good to be out there again. I was a little bit psychologically shell-shocked from the whole experience. I don’t know if I was ready to put in 18 miles per day, but it was good…
iRunFar: So you set out with Rickey Gates’s Hut Run Hut?
Jurek: Yeah, I did a couple days on his Hut-Run-Hut trip, and it was great to be in the Rockies and back on the “home trails” so to speak in Aspen. Great group of folks, and a great way to experience it. It’s a unique luxury to be able to go from hut to hut in Colorado or anywhere in the US, so it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it.
iRunFar: And what was the biggest challenge? Are your legs beat up? Was it your feet? Was it your energy level? What is challenging you right now?
Jurek: I think the biggest thing for me is I feel like I’ve bounced back from the sleep deprivation—I finally caught up on sleep. My body is still trying to recover, and I know it’s going to take many weeks if not months. The biggest thing were my feet being really sore. They survived the trip amazingly well considering. Karl was always blown away, like, “Your feet are money, man. I don’t know what you’re doing. Your feet are so good.” He’s been on the other side of the table.
iRunFar: Right off the bat.
Jurek: It was neat to see him have that perspective. Then after I finished, they’re just so deep down sore. I think sometimes when you take the pressure off of them, whoa, now you notice not doing those miles. My legs just in general, I don’t have anything injury-wise, it’s just deep down soreness. Moving them feels good somewhat, but then other days I don’t want to do too much. I’ve been trying to get on the bike a little bit and spin around town.
iRunFar: Energy-wise, you weren’t 10 miles into one of these days and, “I just want to walk the flats now.”
Jurek: I definitely did a bunch of walking. I brought up the rear and was the walkie-talkie in the back making sure people were okay.
iRunFar: You were sweeping?
Jurek: Exactly, which was totally fine. Early part of the days, I tried to join the front group and run with them. Yeah, it was a blast. It was a blast to be back out and not have a schedule and not have a place I need to be and be on that kind of mode.
iRunFar: When you’re running a 100 miler, there are usually waves of emotions. Toward the end of a 100, people can well up at the most random things. Did you get any of those waves of emotion during the last part?
Jurek: I definitely did. I had moments where, again, you can be just amazingly the most joyful person and then rock bottom. Yeah, I shed some tears with Jenny a couple times where I’m just like, “This is too hard for you. It’s too much. Let’s just go home. Let’s just call it good.” You have those moments where it’s just too much, but then you bounce back. She was like, “No, we’re going to finish this thing.” You have to have the emotions, and you have to recognize them versus just ignore it. It’s wasn’t one of those things where you can just put your head down the whole time.
iRunFar: Did you go numb that way either at the very end where you’re just pushing, pushing, pushing, or in the middle where it’s days where you’re just flat?
Jurek: I had some flattish days, but the emotions would come up. Even when I was so sleep deprived, I’d tell my crew… I remember one time they were like, ”You get one hour of sleep here.” I said, “No way. You guys said I’d get a decent sleep,” which means two to three hours, a little bit more. “No, it’s just one hour.” “They’re crazy.” I told Jenny, “Don’t wake me up. Just let me sleep for two to three hours.” Even though I was sleep deprived and flat and just kind of like a robot of doing what I needed to do, I still had that ability to spike my emotions and be like, “No! No way.”
iRunFar: You were still feeling.
Jurek: Yeah, still feeling, definitely.
iRunFar: So on the gear side of things, what was your set-up from the outset?
Jurek: Some of the biggest things? I went through a total of eight pairs of shoes. My shoe of choice was the Brooks Pure Grit, and I used some Pure Grit 3’s and 4’s throughout the trip. I wore a little bit of the Brooks Cascadia to mix things up and try that a bit, but that was the main shoe choice. The one thing I did to—a lot of people were surprised at how good my feet were—I’m a big fan of using un-petroleum jelly. It’s a non-petroleum jelly based product. I just would lube my feet every morning whether my feet were going to be dry or wet, because sometimes I’m putting on wet shoes. It’s just the way it is on the AT with pouring down rain and just water all over the trail. I used trekking poles the whole time. I never left them at the van. I never really collapsed them except on some technical sections. I had some people that were running with me and supporting me along the way. Sometimes I’d hand them the full length. I used some Black Diamond Z-Poles that I’ve been using for years. I broke a couple falling on them. I went through basically two that I’d broken, but for the most part, I never had them further away from me for a few stretches. They were a huge help. A lot of times I was using them to brake on the downhill. Because I was putting in so many miles, so much elevation gain and loss, I was actually using them to brake on the downhills so I wasn’t beating up my quads. So it’s a little different strategy for a through-hike and an FKT, you’re trying to save your quads. Downhills, you’re not just trying to bomb down them the whole time.
iRunFar: Even if somebody doesn’t have the chance to train as much as they’d like descending, if they live in New York City or Philadelphia or can’t get the hill training for a 100 miler, you could actually use poles to…
Jurek: Yeah, to minimize the force. So I was using them not only on the uphills extensively because the AT is so steep, but I was using them on the downhills. I was using them also for balance. So when I was pretty much falling asleep in some of these later stretches, I was using them as balance. They were like crutches. Also when I had the injury, trying to minimize the impact so that while I was walking downhill, I was still recovering—that 37 mile day, that 39 mile day where I was just walked continuously. Other things, I used a new Ultimate Direction vest that will be the new SJ Ultra vest. I started with a version 2.0 and then basically was able to get some prototypes along the way using some new fabrics. A lot of people were surprised. “What is that thing you’re wearing?” It didn’t have any logos until the last week when it had a logo. That worked amazingly well. Another thing that worked which I think a lot of other trail runners should look into was the Sawyer Inline Water Filter. It’s about 3 oz. I used typically a lot of bottles throughout my racing career, but for this trip, I used a bladder almost extensively except when I wanted to have a bottle of electrolyte drink. Occasionally I’d throw some electrolyte drink in one or I’d throw a smoothie or a dense kind of coconut milk kind of drink. I was doing a lot of these cococcino… basically a latte coconut milk type drink. I’d get some calories but also get some caffeine. That was kind of nice to have that ability. The filter worked amazingly well.
iRunFar: So you were able to just dip…
Jurek: I was basically able to just fill up my bladder. Because the AT has so much water, I used a one liter bladder a lot of the times. I was trying to avoid carrying too much water weight. I carried a Delorme In Reach Explorer Tracker which a lot of people were like, “That’s 6 oz!” For the most part, I carried all of my equipment except in the stretches in New Hampshire and Maine where I actually had to have camping gear because I slept on the trail. A lot of people don’t realize that. They think I slept in the van the whole time. I was fortunate enough to have some locals from New Hampshire and Maine that helped out. The days that I had to sleep either at shelters or on the trail, including at the very end, sometimes it was a half hour little cat nap, but Topher and Krissy basically carried my little Thermarest. They had the night shift.
iRunFar: And extra food, too, because if you can’t get your crew like in the 100 Mile Wilderness…
Jurek: Yeah, there was enough where I had enough… again, a lot of days especially early on it was just Jenny and I out in Virginia, I would go 25 miles carrying all the food I would need and the ability to filter water because I didn’t want her driving down some of these crazy dirt roads. Some of them were just not as accessible. So a lot of times I was carrying everything I would need except for that camping gear. It worked really well being able to filter water so I didn’t have to carry so much water weight. Food-wise, I was using pretty much… I tried to total it up. It was like 4,000 Clif products between Clif Bloks, Clif Gels…
iRunFar: I saw a picture Jenny had salvaged from your pack or whatever.
Jurek: Yeah, we were recycling. She would send it back to Terracycle to be recycled. We were trying to do everything. Again, I hauled out every scrap of toilet paper that I used and hauled that out. I wasn’t leaving it or digging down into a hole which a lot of animals dig up.
iRunFar: Leave no trace.
Jurek: I was really trying to be as minimal as possible in terms of my impact. Yeah, I would highly recommend, if you’re going to do one of these, the most plushest toilet paper. I’m a big fan of using whatever you have to use on the trails at times, but…
iRunFar: But… but…
Jurek: Yeah, there are some things where like… managing chafing issues, that is so key. There were times in the southeast where Jenny was like, “What is happening to your skin?” You have this high humidity, you’re in the rain…
iRunFar: You sweat.
Jurek: You sweat. You’re trying to manage all that.
iRunFar: With that in mind, did you or were there any apparel pieces that were your favorite pieces normally that you’re just like, after a week of it, “I can’t wear this shirt anymore?” It’s not an apparel issue, it’s just…
Jurek: You mean from a psychological…?
iRunFar: Psychological or chafing or…?
Jurek: I still, even though some of these pieces I wore all the time, I wore it out with Rickey on the Hut-Run-Hut. I had this Brooks HVAC shirt I’ve had for years. Jenny put a zipper in it. So it was an old Brooks piece, but she put a zipper in it that unzipped almost three-quarters of the length. It would just allow for ventilation. I used that along with arm warmers a lot of the time. There really wasn’t anything where I was like, “I can’t wear that ever again.” I wore things that I knew were tested by myself. I also tried some new things along the way that I really fell in love with, but I never had anything where I can’t touch that. Even food-wise, it’s kind of crazy, you’d think I’d be so burned out on somethings. Like, I can’t eat another chocolate, cherry, double-caffeine Clif gel. Actually, I just had one the other day, and it was not a problem. You’d think you’d get burned out on things. The only things I really… which was really cool. Some people would bring out food. Some of the things I could eat. Some things I was just like, “I just can’t do a nut energy bar right now.” You know they’re homemade and…
iRunFar: Look so good.
Jurek: Yeah, exactly. The things I’d crave were like the vegan donuts people would bring out, or…
iRunFar: Maybe ice cream-like treats?
Jurek: Yeah, basically coconut milk ice cream was a way of getting 800 calories in one shot.
iRunFar: I remember stories of Horton getting people running out ice cream.
Jurek: Yeah, there’s this group in Pennsylvania, and they basically brought out popsicles on dry ice—something cold when it was 90 degrees out and humidity. It was a lot of fun to have that surprise.
iRunFar: Does that taste sweeter? They brought dry ice and popsicles.
Jurek: Yeah, exactly. It was really neat. Again, with the AT having that trail magic that exists, but then also because people were following along and new where I was and bringing food out, there was a family in another part of Pennsylvania that brought out all these fresh fruits and all these meat substitutes, fake meats essentially, vegan meats. That was a way to get extra protein, and it was super cool because they brought Jenny two grocery bags full of all this food. That was a hard thing, too, her managing… because she had the toughest job of driving into these towns and trying to find food. Sometimes it was fast food hashbrowns for breakfast that she could get. We brought as much food as we could, but sometimes she wasn’t able to make things with that time commitment. She’s doing laundry. She’s having to get gas and get ice. It was just constant.
iRunFar: You guys built out that van, right?
Jurek: Yes, from scratch in five days. We didn’t have a lot of time. Ideally we would have had more time. People think, “Oh, you had all this crazy support.” We did it on our own, but we had friends who had come out and helped us out. To this day, Jenny was just a rockstar with what she did. It’s really tough to find somebody to who’s going to hang out with you and do what she did which is a fulltime job of support crew.
iRunFar: Were you ever miserable to be around? I know I would be.
Jurek: I think some people caught me at a low moment, but I’d say overall, I really tried to be the Scott Jurek most people see. But I would tell people when we were running, “I might not say anything right now.” Or sometimes a crew member who is running with me would say, “Hey, let’s give Scott a little space. He’s needing some quiet time here. He’s a little too sleep deprived to answer questions or engage in a conversation.” Other times I’d be totally talking about stuff and having full conversations. It really kind of ebbed and flowed, but overall I’d say I pretty much…
iRunFar: Kept it together?
Jurek: Kept it together. I didn’t have any crazy…
iRunFar: You didn’t have three or four days where you were just snapping? No one would fault you for that.
Jurek: No, but like Jenny and I, we had arguments. That’s natural especially with a partner or spouse. If you can survive something like the AT, you can survive pretty much anything. It’s like putting your relationship in a pressure cooker and hoping things come out.
iRunFar: She’s here in Salt Lake, so things turned out alright.
Jurek: Yeah, she’s still sticking by me. Like I said, we had a great time together even though there was a lot of work involved. It was a job day-in and day-out. We’re excited to just run and hike on the trails and not have a goal time.
iRunFar: Did it feel like there was a week or two of nonstop action after you stopped with NPR and…?
Jurek: It was great there was interest from the media. That wasn’t the reason I did it. People were really inspired by it. That was a little bit harder because it’s not like I had all this downtime.
iRunFar: You just probably wanted to sleep.
Jurek: Yeah. Again, it’s who I am, and I kind of just like… I’m one of these individuals who’s a hard worker and just like goes for it. Yeah, I’m looking forward to some downtime back at home. We only had a week home. We had to drive back from the East Coast and all those things.
iRunFar: Now you’re out here at the Outdoor Retailer show. When do you head out… or when do you have your downtime?
Jurek: The next two weeks is being at home and catching up on home stuff a little bit of course. I’m just trying to have some downtime. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. I’m headed to France to UTMB to do some speaking but not racing. It will be in a different position.
iRunFar: Have some good food and maybe some good wine?
Jurek: Different perspective of UTMB.
iRunFar: Congratulations on the accomplishment.
Jurek: Thank you, Bryon.
iRunFar: Thank you so much for taking the time.
Jurek: Thank you to everybody out there who supported me. It was a real… yeah, quite an adventure, and I couldn’t have done it without the little bit of comments and support. It’s something I’ll always remember. I really want to thank people for being supportive out there.