Q&A: Scott Jurek on Support, Suffering, and What's Next

Scott Jurek talks about what it took to set a new Appalachian Trail record and how to enjoy wild places on the run
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Scott Jurek talks about what it took to set a new Appalachian Trail record and how to enjoy wild places on the run
Interview with scott jurek

Scott Jurek summited Mt. Katahdin on July 12, 2015, setting the record for the fastest supported thru-hike. (Photo by: Caveman Collective)

When Scott Jurek set the new supported speed record on the Appalachian Trail, covering 2,200 miles in 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes, he was not alone. Friends and athletes from across the outdoor and running communities paced him, ranging from former AT record holder David Horton to climbers Timmy O’Neill and Aron Ralston. But the goodwill Jurek created in his personal quest went deeper than friends and crew. While Jurek continued with the day-after-day relentless forward motion it took to set the record, fans followed him on his Facebook and Instagram feeds and tracked his progress via his Delorme inReach postings. Thru-hikers stopped to have the vegan ultra-running legend sign their books or just to wish him well. Random folks turned up wanting to help him or pace him. It was a hike like no other and it showed how much the outdoor world is changing, how connectivity can create and inspire a community. We caught up with him to ask about what it took.

You pushed your body, through injuries, illness and emotional intensity. What are you doing to recover?

Trying to take it easy and enjoying doing nothing. Seriously, sleeping-in and taking naps, pneumatic compression with a Normatec Recovery System, eating a bunch, and trying to catch up on life at home after two months away. I’ve run a couple times, 4 to 5 miles and it wasn’t pretty. I am actually helping lead a hut-to-hut running trip for three days right now and running and hiking 18 miles a day. Forced recovery!

Do you “suffer” during something like this?

Yes, there is a lot of suffering, but it comes with the territory. One cannot have transformation without adversity and suffering. The most memorable times are those when we get through the most difficult and painful moments.

So many hikers and fans along the trail had stories about running into you. Do any of those encounters stand out to you in particular?

Wow, there are so many! I was inspired by a lot of thru-hikers I met like Mama Bear and her kids. She was a single mom thru-hiking unsupported with her twin five-year-olds and her 11-year-old son.

Talking about how much support your wife Jenny gave you to pull this off, you said that, “we set the record.” Can you tell us more about how she made this happen?

Crew support is critical with a journey like this. Without her skills and determination I wouldn’t have been able to make it. She managed to find all the road crossings using mostly paper maps because there was no cell service and the GPS didn’t pick up the small towns and roads. She kept me fueled with vegan meals in the most remote areas, did all the re-supplies, did the laundry and kept up with the daily grind. She definitely had the hardest job on the trail.

Some casual critics seem to say that you missed the point of the AT. That by going fast, you missed things? That we need to slow down more instead of speed up? What do you have to say to them?

I saw, heard, smelled, touched just as much as someone who moves at a slower pace on the AT. I just spent longer days on the trail. My average pace was 3-3.5 miles per hour and later in New Hampshire and Maine it was 2 m.p.h., so no faster than what hikers typically do. The pace someone moves on the trail is a personal preference. I do plenty of trail time where I am moving slower while section hiking and backpacking. I choose different speeds for different experiences, but the same purpose exists to enjoy my surroundings.

Likewise many people say the outdoor industry has become too commercial. Do you worry that the outdoors and ultrarunning are becoming too commercial? 

I think a balance can be achieved. I feel the challenge is working together to get more people out exploring wild places in all different modes and fashions while respecting the land and the pressures of increased use. The more people see the value in wild land, the better able we will be able to protect the lands we love.

Does this really mark your retirement as a professional athlete? What’s in your immediate future?

I still have a few things I want to do, but this may mark my retirement from competitive racing. Adventure runs like the AT are what I am most excited about at this point in my career. I have a busy summer and fall with speaking and appearances including trips to France and India, and contemplating writing another book.

This article first appeared in the Outdoor Retailer Daily, published by our sister website, SNEWS. Be sure to check for more news and trends in the O.R. Daily, Days 1-4, published live at the show, and available digital format at www.snewsnet.com/ordaily