I grew up on the east coast, specifically in West Virginia, which strangely enough is barely part of the Appalachian Trail (strange to me anyway). Nevertheless, I’m pretty familiar with the Appalachian Trail and have hiked through parts of it. The Appalachian Trail runs from Georgia to Maine and is about 2,200 miles long. It is often modified or re-routed, so the exact distance changes over time.
Imagine running this distance, through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine in 46 days. That is what Scott Jurek did in 2015. At the time, he broke the current record for fastest supported thru-hiking, northbound. This was since broken by Karel Sabbe on August 29, 2018 who completed the trail in 41 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes. Karl Meltzer holds the southbound record for completing the trail on September 18, 2016, in 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes.
This book also delves into the psychological aspects of completing such a task as completing a 2,200 mile-long trail in roughly a month and a half. Early on, Jurek doubted himself and his ability to complete the trail in record time. Those doubts lingered pretty much until the end was clearly in sight, and even then, the record was broken by a mere few hours. This, coming from someone (Jurek) who has won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven consecutive times, the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon twice, Hardrock Hundred and the 153 mile Spartathlon three times.
I like how the book is broken into sections, beginning with the Deep South, then on to Virginia, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Maine, and the Epilogue. Each section of the trail is described in great detail, including the people the Jureks encounter along the trail and in the surrounding towns. It broke my heart a bit to read about some of the creepy people they met in the Deep South because that’s where I live, but I would hope it was such a small sampling of the people around the trail that it’s not the norm but rather the exception. I enjoyed reading about the outpouring of people who came to run along with Scott, bring him and his crew food, and just cheer him on. I’ve read in some online reviews that some people didn’t like how much Jurek kept referring to his vegan diet, but I wasn’t put off by any of that. I realize being vegan is a big part of his lifestyle, so it makes sense it would have a big part in the book.
One quote I liked from Jurek is “You train not to beat other people but to beat time and previous performance.” This emphasizes the camaraderie Jurek has with some other distance runners like Karl Meltzer, who currently holds the southbound record for the AT. Meltzer, among others, actually helped provide support when Jurek was trying to break the northbound record. The following year, Jurek went out to provide support to Meltzer when Meltzer successfully completed the AT in record time. These are guys who are absolute competitors on the ultramarathon course, but who shake hands at the end and have a beer together, regardless who won.
Stories of people not only enduring but conquering huge quests like this have always fascinated me, like the story of Shackleton in the book “Endurance” by Worsley and others like that, so it’s not surprising I enjoyed this book. I like reading what our minds and bodies are capable of when pushed to extremes. Recently, I wrote a review on Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance Book by Alex Hutchinson. This is basically a compilation of people pushing the limits in many different scenarios so of course I loved the book and highly recommend it.
I found myself not wanting to put this book away at night, which is ultimately my personal gauge if I really enjoy a book or not. Even though I knew how it was going to end, I still found myself pulled into the story and the characters involved. I also liked the unique aspect Scott’s wife Jenny gave by providing her side of the story.
You can find this book at Amazon, your local bookstore, or your public library. The book is 320 pages and also has some photos that were taken along the way on the Appalachian Trail, which I found added to the depth of the story.
Have any of you read this book or Scott Jurek’s other book, “Eat and Run?” Do you also enjoy reading about people pushing their limits and breaking records? Have any of you hiked part or all of the Appalachian Trail? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience!