Spoilers first: If you are looking for a book on running technique, this is not it.
Think of ‘Eat and Run’ as a trail run through the emotional wilderness of an ultra-marathon legend, where you run through the serene flats of his most glorious wins, and the jagged valleys of his personal demons – all with some delicious, vegan recipes along the way! Beware though, you will be left mentally wincing at Jurek’s description of the hell that he willingly puts his body through on a regular basis, as he takes you on a journey through some of the world’s toughest, most brutal endurance events. Instead of relying on training volumes and mileages, Jurek articulates the sacrifice involved in athletic excellence- using one agonizing cramp, swollen muscle and blister at a time.
Like with all obsessions, Jurek is painfully honest about coming to an impasse at his running journey and the existential struggle of asking himself, ‘Why do I run? Why do I put my body through this?’ Not an easy question, and the book does not end with an answer. Instead, the reader is free to empathize with the feeling that perhaps there is no answer. For runners, running is a lifelong tussle between doubting oneself and rediscovering the joy of running all over again.
Jurek paints a fascinating picture of the world of endurance junkies – a tribe obsessed with physical pain and distance, to the point where pain is a form of medication and meditation to them. From runners turning off headlamps on treacherous mountainous trails to confuse the competition, to runners carrying fellow runners across the finish line after 100kms – Jurek delicately balances the toughness and vulnerability of the American ultra-marathon community.
Jurek being a poster-child for the ‘vegan athlete’ movement, veganism is a major part of his narrative arc. In fact, ‘Eat and Run’ is part-narrative journey through Jurek’s career, and part-cookbook. Jurek also has the makings of a competent food blogger, as he turns every recipe into a warm and comforting campfire story of its own. For Jurek, food is more than fuel and sustenance. His relationship with food is sacrosanct on an emotional level.
Critics have pointed out that Jurek’s diet before embarking on veganism was so unhealthy, that any modification in his diet would have been an improvement, and therefore it is difficult to attribute his success solely to his veganism. However, the smallest of factors make a huge difference at the elite level, and the fact remains that at the peak of his career, Jurek’s vegan diet was one of the factors that was distinctly different from those of his competitors. This book might just inspire you to think about veganism and explore plant-powered running.
‘Eat and Run’ also offers a glimpse into something that seems to be a common thread through the lives of many running greats – an enduring relationship with nature. Jurek is particularly effective in using nature to chronicle his struggle with a difficult family life – with his mother’s progressive illness, his emotionally closed-off father, and a hard childhood. Nature is almost a primary character in itself in the book, becoming a metaphor for his life journey. Nature represents both, his sanctuary and his nemesis. A comfort, and a challenge to be conquered at the same time.
Every chapter is framed around a major event in his career, making this a breezy and easy read. Like we mentioned before, this is not a book on running technique. This memoir is more of a meditative journey on why people run. The book will leave you introspecting on your own motivation to run.
If the simplest test of a good running book is, ‘Does it inspire you put on your running shoes?’, then ‘Eat and Run’ passes it with flying colors.