Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: Eat and Run

When I picked up Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, I was unsure of what to expect. As an avid reader, writer, and runner, books on running and about runners typically flow for me, and thus I often reach the end of them searching for more. Each running text explores a different facet of running, ranging from training method, historical context, or personal narrative. This time around, I hoped to learn about Jurek the man, his motivations, his drives, and the life of a Vegan Runner, and I did. Eat and Run will give you these things, it will lead you down that road. He loads the text with Philosophy, he details many of his races, and he explains how and why he is a Vegan Runner.
 Yet Jurek’s text, while interesting at times, just didn’t provide the narrative experience that keeps a page turning. This is not to say that the text is not worth the look, but that rather it fails to flow as a cohesive narrative. Eat and Run is broken into chapters that center on an important event or stage of Jurek’s life with each chapter ending with a Vegan Recipe. As stand-alone articles, many of the chapters would be great reads, yet they fail to connect in the book format. We jump from race to race with little mention of the events in-between. Personals issues come and go, sometimes they are given a backstory and subsequent resolution, other times the tales have no terminus and we are just left there. In the texts opening pages, we are hooked by a harrowing tale of one of Jurek's attempts to tame the Badwater Ultramarathon, a race that transverses Death Valley, running a 135 miles, in the middle of July. Yet this tale is never really brought a conclusion, being only half finished much farther into the text. The wait was too long, the narrative too jarring.

At times, Jurek will describe a single endurance event in detail, whether it is a training run up a mountain, a 24-hour race run in pursuit of a record, or a spiritual experience while running the Spartatholon through Greece. These moments make the text—we want to read about what makes an ultra-marathoner, how this man can push through the pain, run with broken bones, and submerge himself in a coffin like structure full of ice water in the middle of Death Valley. Yet, Jurek suddenly breaks away from these moments, leaving a jarring experience. His family life is deeply humane, interesting, and pushes you to understand why he runs like he does, but one heartfelt tale doesn’t always flow into another. We read about his mother's health struggles and how they drove Jurek to train, but at times these details are more assumed and inferred than stated. His race schedule is sporadic to the reader, and the reader may struggle when confronted with the nature of the events if they are not familiar with them.

All in all, Jurek bares his heart, teaches you about running, why people run, and how running is far more than physical activity—it is philosophy in motion. He provides interesting recipes, and for the most part the results have been favorable when I’ve tried them out. For the runner, for the marathoner, for the lunatic wanting to run farther than 26.2, give it a look.

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