Last week, I had the chance to talk with ultramarathoner Scott Jurek about his Thursday talk at Chautauqua on eating a plant-based diet — he prefers not to say vegan, he says, because it’s sometimes a little strong for people.
Scott’s name might be familiar to you because he’s been a competitive (and successful) runner for 17 years. He’s also one of the main characters in Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book on the Tarahumara, the swift-footed natives of Mexico’s Copper Canyon.
Given the opportunity, I also asked Scott about moving to Boulder last fall, eating vegan for 100K runs and that holler he lets out at the starting line. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: Why did you move to Boulder?
A: It’s funny, because all the times I’ve been to Colorado, I hadn’t even been to Boulder until October 2009.
There’s always something that, I might not be good enough for Boulder.
You know, the Boulder stigma. Maybe I don’t want to get into that… but after spending the summer here training, with altitude, access to trails….I think the great thing about Boulder right now is there’s a lot of young ultrarunners, which has re-inspired me. And not so much just the running and endurance scene, but people who are really pushing the edges of their sports, I guess I fed off that. It inspires me to think, ‘OK, what more can I do?’ Because I’ve been racing ultras for 17 years now, so I’m at the point where ‘OK, I’ve got a few more years, I’ve got a few more good races I want to put in, then I’m gonna be ready to just run for fun, not compete at a high level.’
Q: How is the trail running here compared to Seattle?
A: It’s hard not to run trails every day (here), and I like to mix it up a little bit.
Trails here, they’re not as switchbacked here in Boulder, which has been a big change for me. They’re really steep, they tend to just go straight up here, or steeper switchbacks. And a lot rockier. I’ve worked a lot on technical trails, but in the northwest they’re not as consistently steep and consistently rocky. It’s been good.
Q: Are you going to run the Bolder Boulder?
A: I’d like to do it, I just feel right now — I did a 5K in January at altitude, and it did not go well. I just hadn’t trained.
I like to pop in to 10Ks and 5Ks, but I feel like it’s such a prestigious event. I’ll probably check it out, but I don’t know if I’ll run.
Q: Is a 10K just a warm-up for you?
A: It’s different, because you’re pushing really hard at such a high level. A lot of people say ‘Oh, it’s just a warm up,’ but running 10K hurts no matter what pace. It’s a tough race.
Plus, it’s not what I train for, so it’s like asking the 10K runner, why don’t you run a 50K with Scott?
Q: What’s your favorite ultra event?
A: That’s a tough one. Lately I’ve been really jonesing for the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, which I’m training for in August.
It’s a 105-mile race that circumnavigates Mont Blanc, and it is the most competitive 100-mile race in the world right now; it surpasses anything in this country.
Q: What’s the focus of your talk at Chautauqua?
A: This one’s all about sports nutrition. And you don’t have to be a serious athlete either. I like to say — not sports nutrition, but active lifestyle nutrition.It‘s about how I incorporate a bunch of foods, that 15 years ago, I would have been like, ‘What is this stuff?’ It’s about how I incorporate plant foods into my diet, what they should eat on the run, how they should eat on the run, or while they’re exercising — basically, everyday nutrition, while exercising, and then recovery.
Q: How do you run ultras on a vegan diet?
A: It really is a mental shift. When I first went vegan, I thought, before big races, I thought I would need that.
It’s not so hard once you just get it down.
I’m not trying to make the world vegetarian or vegan, but if most people ate vegetarian or vegan 70 percent of the time, that would be a huge change in our health, that’d be a huge change in our environment, we’d have some huge, lasting changes.
If you say, ‘Are you hungry? How do you get 5,000 calories of plant foods in your diet?’ I love to eat, I love to spend time in the kitchen cooking, but you don’t have to be a master chef, you have to learn some basics.
It takes effort to eat well, no matter what you’re eating.
Q: Do you ever run barefoot?
A: I do, some for strengthening-slash-cross training. After a track workout, I’ll run on the infield, do some miles. Sometimes I’ll go to a park, run on the grass for a few miles.
It’s really about strengthening my feet. But it’s great for technique.I think running in shoes is the fastest way to run. There’s no way a barefoot runner will beat out somebody in shoes on trails like there are in Boulder.
But for a lot of people, they’re not worried about their speed, they’re worried about having a good time, getting out running, and that to me should be number one on everybody’s list. I love to compete, and it’s fun to race, it’s fun to push my body and explore new boundaries, but in the end, I think Chris’ book too, it told people that running can be fun, not something you do because you got in trouble in gym class.
I think hiking in Boulder can be just as good as running for a lot of people. In fact, not too many people can run up some of these steep trails we have.
Q: You’re known for letting out a big holler at the start of a race. This is for print, not radio or television, so I won’t ask you to do it. But could you spell how it sounds for me?
A: I think it’s something…it would start with a ‘Whoo,’ so w-h-o-o-o, and end with a ‘Ha,’ but it’s not a military hoo-ah holler.
It might even end with a ‘yeah’ at the end of that.
For me, before a race it’s all about getting psyched, that primal scream, rebel holler.
It’s kind of a holler of being alive I guess.
What: “Eat, Run, Live Longer”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Chautauqua Community House