The Mind of an Ultra-Running Champion: Part 2

Scott Jurek is considered one of the best endurance runners ever in the USA.  He has won the Western States 100 mile race 7 times, the Bad Water 135 mile race twice, the Spartathon 3 consecutive times, and held the USA record for distance run in 24 hours at 165.7 miles.

Badwater. The word will make any ultra-runner cringe.  Known as the toughest foot race, the Badwater ultra-marathon stretches 135 miles through the heart of Death Valley, the lowest place in the western hemisphere and also one of the hottest.  To complete the race runners will have to bring extra pairs of shoes incase one melts from the heat of the asphalt while running, and large tubs of ice water that the runner can jump in for a few moments to lower his or her body temperature to avoid being pulled from the race by the medical crew.  Badwater can be not only one of the most physically strenuous races in the world but the most psychologically draining.

Several years ago Scott Jurek found himself at mile 75 of the Badwater course unable to go on.  He sat there on the edge of the road doubting his ability to finish the race.  At that moment, just a couple weeks after his seventh Western States 100 ultra-marathon win, he was in second place and just five miles up the road was the only runner between him and the finish line.

“When you run an ultra-marathon you get to hit several walls not just one,” said Jurek to an audience of runners on April 2nd of this year.  It seemed he had hit one of these walls and could not go on.  As he vomited multiple times and then laid on the pavement his mind shot forward to the future of shame if he did not finish or the pain he would feel if he went on, and back to the past doubting his judgement to participate in such a difficult race just weeks after winning a competitive 100 mile race.  It was only one thing that could bring his mind to the present and move on.

Jurek’s long time friend and pacer, Dusty, was asleep in the support vehicle and when he heard that Jurek was struggling to even get up he came out to talk to Jurek.  “Come on we’re going to start walking,” he said to Jurek.  That little help and motivation from his friend was enough to get him up and they started to walk, and then started to run, and Jurek began to feel better.  As he crossed the finish line for that race he did so in first place and with a new course record.  What is it that got him through that hopeless moment and on to run the race in a record time.

Jurek answered the question: “It’s all about motivation.  All these little factors that come into play and when you are down in the lowest point and feel like you can’t go on wether it is in life or running or in what ever challenge your faced with.  Sometimes you get a little help.  Sometimes getting a little bit of motivation from something or someone.  Find whatever motivation that can kind of just keep you moving.  Find whatever inspiration you can.”

Having the right motivation and the right people around us to get us through those moments of despair to the highest level of performance are priceless.  “I wish I could bottle up (what got me up that day) and sell it.”

Burnout cannot only happen during a major competition — it is important to guard from burnout as you train.  Scott Jurek has learned to avoid burnout by keeping the passion and love he has for running.   Speaking about the desire to train and improve he said, “It does come and go.  Keep the passion for what you do.  Learn from other people and change things up.  Run with different people.  Get motivation from them.” Not only does Jurek learn to keep his love for running by sharing experiences with others that share his passion, but he also continues to seek new knowledge.  When you ask him how did he learned his perfect running technique he will tell you that it is not perfect and he is continuing to improve it by learning from others.  Learning the natural laws of performance and continuing to tweak skills and techniques is a common attribute of high performers.  Like Scott Jurek, high performers never feel that they have arrived.  They are on a continuing journey to fulfill their infinite potential.

On April 2, Ultra-Marathon Champion Scott Jurek visited the Wasatch Running Center for a run and a Question and Answer session afterward.