On July 12, 2015, ultrarunner Scott Jurek set a new speed record on the 2,189-mile, Georgia to Maine, Appalachian Trail. His time of 46 days, eight hours, and seven minutes bested the previous record, set by Jennifer Pharr Davis in 2011, by a little more than three hours.
Two days into his recovery — Jurek ran an average of 50 miles a day — he spoke with Men's Journal about the impact to his body, and his experience on what's widely considered America's toughest trail.
Just how tough is the Appalachian Trail?
This was the hardest thing I've done in my life. I'd done the research, but you really don't understand how extremely difficult it is until you're on it. I've spent the past 15 years out west, in the Rocky Mountains, and have been in the northwest and experienced the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Crest Trail, and still, the AT blew me away. The lack of switchbacks in the south, the lack of rhythm of the trail as I got further north, the roots, the rocks, the mud — the AT is a burly mother unlike any other trail I've ever experienced. At times it literally felt like I was going down a drainage chute. It wasn't just like there were rocks and roots on the trail; it was like trying to run down a waterfall that had very little water in it. I have a new appreciation for East Coast runners.
How's the recovery going?
I've been eating a lot, trying to get calories back into the body. My whole body has this general state of fatigue, I'm just tired all over. My feet hurt the most. They were so used to moving and me being upright and being on them, that I hadn't noticed how sore they were until I stopped running. And I'm super sleep deprived. One of the big issues I had was that in order to break the record, I had to keep spending more and more time on the trail, which meant less sleep. Other than that, I've got a few blisters, and a little bit of an ingrown toenail on one of my toes, but I really can't complain, my body is doing pretty good.
What was the hardest part?
Early on, in the Great Smokey Mountains, I was having a knee issue and then strained my quad. I went from doing a lot of mileage and feeling good to dealing with a potential showstopper, which was really tough. Once I recovered from that, my biggest challenge was the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the mountains and ruggedness of Maine. Just before, in Vermont, it was super muddy from record rains, which brought me down, and I was fighting a flu or stomach issue, none of which put me in a strong position to take on New Hampshire and Maine. Those mountains will just eat you alive. The hills and rocks and roots of Maine were probably some of the toughest running, and toughest forward motion — there are parts you're not even able to run — that I've ever done on a trail. Plus I was so sleep deprived, sometimes getting only an hour and a half of sleep a night. Ironically, while New Hampshire's White Mountains and Maine are the crux of the trail, and were almost my downfall, they're also, along with the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, the most beautiful sections.
There's been talk of retirement, what's next?
There are still some more adventures I want to do, but as far as pushing myself to this level again, well, this could be it for me. Keep in mind that we're talking two days after I finished, and I'm really feeling it now. Everything is still raw and fresh, so my perspective could be different later on. But right now, I'm really looking forward to getting back to the mountains of Colorado and just going for a run in the woods without any pressure or time constraints. Just running.
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