Monday, February 1, 2016

On the trail with Scott Jurek {Fort Wayne Track Club banquet recap}

Standing on the stage, Scott Jurek was hardly recognizable. The ultramarathoner, who set the Appalachian Trail record last summer, had traded his Brooks shorts and shoes for a button-down shirt, tie and sport coat. The thin, scruffy face that was photographed in Maine was clean shaven and a bit fuller.

But the curly hair and affable smile gave him away.

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Jurek was the keynote speaker at the Fort Wayne Track Club banquet on Sunday night, sharing stories from his life and time on the AT, as well as a guide for running success.

It's the fifth year that I've attended the banquet, and I am continually blown away by the caliber of the speakers the club brings in. {2012: Shalane Flanagan; 2013: Dave Wottle; 2014: Bart Yasso; 2015: Lauren Fleshman} Moreover, the club's timing is seemingly impeccable. We heard from Shalane just after she qualified for the Olympic marathon team and this year, we heard from Jurek just after he set the trail record. When the club was booking the speakers, it had no way of anticipating the successes the runners would have before the banquet.

The address began with a featurette about Jurek's time on the AT. If you read any of the criticism about his attempt, you might have heard about a camera crew following him. The crew was part of a larger documentary project, of which he will be a small part. They were with him for about three weeks of his 46 days. Read: It was not "his" crew/entourage.

Anyway, this video ... OMG. I have said it before and I'll say it again: Consuming accounts and information about time on the AT and Pacific Coast Trail goad me. They make me want to abandon my life and take in the trails. To explore. To discover. To live.

And the video was no different. However, I found myself surprised – almost embarrassingly so – by the hardship of life on the trail. There was a shot where Jurek took off during a torrential rain, the wind blowing with such force that the trees seemed to bend. His feet were soaked but calloused and blistered. He was thin and frail looking, his stride less of a run and more of a hobble.

There was such beauty, though. A vibrant green canopy of trees, single-track dirt trails, refreshing creek waters. There was victory and pleasure in the challenge. When I asked him later in the Q&A if he felt like he got to enjoy the breathtaking beauty because of his pace (about 50 miles a day), he said the joy came in pushing himself and the experience.

And push himself he does.

The greater part of Jurek's address was spent talking about he is able to do it – and how we can do it. Sure, we're not all going to win Western States or run Badwater but we can choose goals that are a bit scary. We can work hard. We can be present, focusing on the things that we are doing. We can create a world around us that is bigger than just running.

We can stop saying never.

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Because, as Jurek said, "There's a lot of 'nevers' that dot my career."

He not only did the things he said he would never do but he excelled, and we have that in us, too.

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Other highlights:

• The track club speaker is brought in for a whole weekend of events, from honoring the top high school runners to meet and greets at the local running stores. In past years, the speaker has run with members of the board and other influentials in the running community. This year, though, the run was opened up to the community.

About 75 folks signed up, and Scott ran with every single person. No joke. He started at the front and worked his way back along the 3.4-mile cross country course. Even when he was finished, he ran in with some of the people who had not yet finished.

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He was so kind about it, chatting with everyone. And when I tried to be sly about taking a selfie, he caught me and then told me to take it again so he could smile.

• There was a new venue for the banquet, and the served dinner was replaced with a buffet. I may or may not have given an eye roll to that but was pleasantly surprised. There was a great house salad with dried cherries and nuts, green beans, roasted potatoes and barbecue chicken. The organizers even arranged to have lentil burgers made using Scott Jurek's recipe. And, let me tell you – amazing. I'll be making them again soon.

• Hanging out with my friends. I signed up for the banquet on my own, not thinking to ask anyone whether they were going. I didn't know what table I would be at or with whom I'd sit. Within minutes of walking in, I had seen old friends and familiar faces and could have sat a number of places. I don't say that to be like, "OMG, I'm so popular" but to show that the running group here is so welcoming.

If I take anything away from the banquet, it is that Fort Wayne is truly lucky to have such a community, and I'm blessed to be a part of it.


  1. Wow! Sad that I turned this one down ... but I think I set a record for watching a marathon of "Once Upon a Time" on Netflix yesterday. Just as hard as running the AT, I'm sure.

  2. You should read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. It's about his time on the AT. Great book!

  3. Yay! Your club puts on the best events!!!! It's so cool to hear the elites talk and take some of their advice down to our level - like the never say never. I would love to meet Scott someday. I GREATLY appreciate that he is a vegan ultrarunner and showing that it CAN be done on a plant based diet. Cool that they made his lentil burgers!