Commentary, Vegan Fitness

Why Scott Jurek’s Appalachian Trail Record is a Win for Veganism

World-class ultramarathon runner Scott Jurek finishes his 2,180-mile run of the Appalachian Trail atop Mount Katahdin on Sunday, July 12, 2015.  Luis Escobar | Reflections Photography Studio
Completing the 2,180-mile trek at the top of Mount Katahdin.

It’s been just four days since Scott Jurek completed, what he calls, his “masterpiece”. Leonardo had the Mona Lisa, Beethoven had the 9th symphony, so what would the most dominant ultramarathoner of his time consider his crowning achievement? Running a long, long way!

On Sunday, Jurek completed his journey to traverse the Appalachian trail in record time. The trail spans from Georgia to Maine, almost 2,200 miles including 515,00 feet of elevation. In many parts the trail is rough, technical and remote.

Completing the entire trail, known as thru-hiking, is a rare and tremendous feat limited to extremely experienced hikers. It’s recommended to take anywhere from five to seven months to complete the journey. Scott Jurek’s time? Forty six days, eight hours and seven minutes, less than two months! To accomplish this, he had to cover over fifty miles a day, at times through some of the toughest trail imaginable.

He faced hardship along the way. In the first week he sustained a knee injury and a severe quadricep strain, and still he ran.

Record Vermont rainfalls in June provided and additional obstacle. Yet, he continued on.

Late in the game he contracted a stomach bug, but he continued to put one foot in front of the other.

Eating enough calories to sustain his constant physical effort for the vegan athlete proved to be one of the biggest challenges. In an instagram post published in the final weeks of his journey, many noted that the runner looked remarkably drawn. Scott, already a lean man before the outset of the adventure, lost 20 pounds off his frame.

While gauntness is one of the trademarks of a thru-hiker, he did not escape the usual skepticism as to whether his animal-free diet could sustain the extreme endeavor.

With, what is in my opinion, a very low class move, Marshall Ulrich, another renowned ultra runner, criticised Jurek’s diet on his Facebook page even as Scott pressed on through his challenge. “Scott is losing muscle mass and has no real food (fats and proteins) to replace it.” The comment sparked a backlash, and a fairly wild debate by Jurek’s followers.

Here’s the irony. While the running world debated whether or not one could get enough protein from plants, Scott summited Mount Mount Katahdin, and triumphantly achieved his goal to complete the epic journey faster than anyone in history.

He adds the accomplishment to his impressive resume. Throughout his career, Scott made a name for himself by completely dominating his competition, claiming multiple victories in many of the sport’s toughest and most distinguished races. The has won the Hardrock 100, the Badwater Ultramarathon three times, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven times and the Spartathlon three times. He also held the US record for distance run in 24 hours, 165.7 miles.

Would Scott’s feats of endurance somehow be more impressive if he ate animal protein? It’s very hard to imagine that it would be. Is his otherworldly performance a direct result of his vegan diet? That would also be claiming a lot, although I certainly believe that a vegan holds distinct advantages for athletes.

Speculation aside, it is clear is that the human body can accomplish amazing feats being thoroughly sustained by a cruelty free, animal free, plant-based diet. No one can seriously argue that given what Scott has accomplished.

As an athlete, Jurek is easy to like. He is quiet and humble. He made a name for himself by waiting around at race finish lines until every runner crossed, and believe me, at events over 100 miles, he waited a long time! Besides expressing a true love and passion for his sport, Scott embodies respect and solidarity for those who understand the allure of running long in communion with nature.

It only makes sense that a man who gives so much back to the sport would choose not to take from others, regardless of any perceived competitive edge he might gain from it. While even this day and age, many insist that animal protein is essential for athletic performance, Scott, arguably the greatest athlete his sport has seen, is not interested. For him, the animals and environment are not something to sacrifice in the name furthering selfish goals. Instead, throughout his career he showed that great things can be achieved with a heart of compassion.

Scott reminds me that competing and training as an athlete is more than just a challenge for the body. Athlete’s are warriors of the mind as well. It takes discipline and self manifestation to forge a winning mindset. Perhaps part of that discipline is to stand up for those who cannot defend themselves.

What Scott has accomplished is a win for veganism. He has proven that the size of an achievement is in no way limited by the magnitude of your heart.

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