Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek grew up near Duluth hating running cross-country and loving traditional Midwestern food -- lots of meat and potatoes. Gradually, the guy who's won all of the country's major ultramarathons (any race longer than 26.2 miles, many in the 100-mile range) and who holds the U.S. record for miles run in 24 hours -- 165.7 -- changed the way he felt about running and eating.
"I grew up as a backwoods Minnesota boy, hunting and fishing. I didn't even know what a vegan was until late in college," he said.
He does now. Jurek, 38, lives in Colorado and eats a 100 percent plant-based diet. He's written "Eat & Run," a book that is part runner's manual, part guide on how someone who runs up to 120 miles a week can get enough calories, carbs and protein to remain healthy -- and win. Jurek attributes his super endurance and overall health to his diet.
He'll be talking about his book and leading a fun run at Gear West Cross Country Ski and Run in Long Lake on Tuesday.
Q You grew up in a hardworking, meat-and-potatoes farm family in Proctor, Minn. Do they still tease you about veganism?
A I still get teased all the time, but they've come around to respect it. My dad will cook me spaghetti. I've made tempeh for him and he says it's pretty good. I'm not self-righteous about being vegan.
Q You met the person who introduced you to veganism in line at McDonald's. Explain.
A That was my ex-wife. I was buying the two chicken sandwiches and large fries that I used to get four times a week. Jenny was refilling a co-worker's soda. She introduced me to it but it wasn't until I watched my mom's slow decline from MS and then read Andrew Weil's "Spontaneous Healing" that I realized the importance of nutrition. I'm a physical therapist and I started doubting if I was really doing my patients any good if I wasn't teaching them about nutrition.
Q Why did you decide to write this book?
A I went from hating running and veggies to winning the toughest ultramarathons. It's a testament to change -- doing the things that we think are impossible and being open to possibilities of life.
Q Who's the book for, the vegan wannabe or the runner?
A Both. It's for the person who wants to take control of their life after their first 5K or the person who wants to eat healthier or lose weight.
Q Has your diet helped your running?
A It took a year to see any benefits. I had more energy within a few months, and then I noticed shorter recovery times [after races]. But I don't think it makes a difference on race day. I did it because I wanted to be healthier and enjoy my 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.
Q Describe the portions you have to eat to maintain weight.
A When I'm training I eat 3,000 to 5,000 calories daily, about 15 to 20 percent protein, 65 percent carbs and 20 percent fat. For breakfast I might have a smoothie with fruit, brown rice, pea protein powder, nuts and seeds, and flax oil, another piece of fruit or two, oatmeal for protein, and quinoa porridge. For lunch, sprouted whole-grain bread, salad and a protein like beans and rice, tofu, tempeh and steamed veggies. For dinner a big salad that covers all the plate with olive oil dressing, nuts and seeds.
Q Ever get your old college craving for chicken burgers and large fries?
A I don't. It's surprising because I ate so much pot roast, pork chops and fried fish growing up. Now my diet is balanced. I don't feel deprived. I eat vegan ice cream, yogurt, cheeses and pizza.
Q Where do you eat when you're in the Twin Cities? Back in Proctor?
A I shop at the Wedge in Minneapolis, and I like Ethiopian restaurants. In Proctor I search for an ethnic restaurant where I can get beans and others can get meat.
Q How many miles do you run weekly?
A When I'm training, 110 to 120 miles per week. Half that when I'm not training. I take four to six weeks off per year.
Q What's your latest goal?
A I'm hoping to head to the ultramarathon world championships in Katowice, Poland, September 8 and 9. It's one loop about a mile long and you run around it as many times as possible in 24 hours.