You’ve heard of the Appalachian Trail. You know it’s really, really long. You know it’s steep. You probably even know a few people who’ve tried to hike it and given up. After all, three out of four hikers who set out to complete the seven-month journey don't make it.
Scott Jurek is not one of those people. Of course, he didn’t set out to just finish the trail—he set out to beat the record for the fastest journey, running more than 2,100 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. This weekend, he beat Jennifer Pharr Davis’ previous record by just over three hours. In other words: He did it.
A veteran ultramarathonner and sixteen-year vegan, Jurek completed the trail in 46 days, 8 hours, 7 minutes. The feat is a major victory for Jurek, even considering his long string of wins in Western State 100s and record-setting times in ultramarathons all over the country.
Held back by an injury in the first week of the journey, Jurek fell behind pace early on. His right knee flared up, and then compensation in his left leg led to a quadriceps tear.
“I had never experienced that level of quadriceps tear before,” he told us. “Trying to hobble with two bad legs down a trail is literally impossible. I thought for sure at that point I’d be done and I wouldn’t be able to continue." But the next day, he walked it out and covered substantial ground (if less than he originally hoped for). He focused on minimizing the stress on his joints, concentrating on the alignment of each step. Soon, he was running again.
Jurek hit another major hurtle in the last week, when rough, muddy New England weather forced him to slow his pace. Over the last four days and 200 miles of running, he slept a total of only about 10 hours. Some nights he would rest only about 90 minutes before getting up and hitting the trail all over again.
So how did he manage to do it? When he wasn't focusing on his strategy, he tried to let himself appreciate the trail itself. “Sometimes it’s just taking in the beauty of the trail and really enjoying the beauty—taking in the sights and the sounds and the smells,” he said. “Half the population lives within 3 hours of the Appalachian Trail, so it’s really one of our country’s gems.”
Jurek stayed motivated through the toughest parts of his race by dedicating his runs to different people, including his wife, and his mother who passed away several years ago. “There were plenty of moments where I said, 'Why am I doing this? This is too extreme. I’m pushing myself too far,'" he said. “But having that dedication could help me push forward.”
His support team pushed forward, too, especially his wife Jenny. “She had the toughest job of them all,” Scott told us. “Her job was harder than even running the trail. She was able to give me comfort when I needed it, but also to give me that tough love when I needed it. And that’s an amazing gift.”
Jenny gave him more than just emotional support—she also helped keep Scott fueled for the journey. Natural foods were a priority for him, with staples including morning hash browns and toast slathered with coconut oil. Protein smoothies helped keep his muscles in tact over the six and a half weeks of the run. As a member of Team Clif Bar (with fellow outdoor heroes Tommy Caldwell and Chris Sharma) he also kept up a steady supply of Clif bars.
When he finally arrived at the base of Katahdin on Sunday, with just over 5 miles left, Scott knew he would make it. It was Jenny’s birthday, and so he and his team decided to treat it as an easy, no-stress birthday hike to celebrate.
“It felt amazing,” he said. At the top, he was greeted by running and hiking enthusiasts and a swig of champagne—and another honor in his long list of extreme running victories.