What One Ultramarathoner (and His Wife) Learned About Perseverance from Running the Appalachian Trail
In North, ultramarathoner Scott Jurek details his extraordinary journey to break the speed record for running the Appalachian Trail—but not without the help of his wife.
Widely considered to be one of the most dominant and decorated ultramarathon runners in the world, Scott Jurek is no stranger to a challenge. Throughout his celebrated running career, he's crushed the elite trail and road events, including his signature race, the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile trail race that he's won a record seven straight times.
After all that success, though, the inspiration to keep going-to keep up the training, the races, the recovery, was difficult to maintain. Scott needed a new challenge. That's why in 2015, with the help of his wife Jenny, he set out to break the speed record for running the Appalachian Trail. Talk about a challenge.
Searching for What's Next
"I was looking for something to get that fire and passion back that I used to have when I was competing in my earlier years when I first started running," Scott tells Shape. "The Appalachian Trail wasn't necessarily a trail I had on my list. It was completely foreign to Jenny and me, and that was kind of another impetus for this trip-to do something completely different."
The couple's arduous journey together along the Appalachian Trail, which spans 2,189 miles from Georgia up to Maine, is the subject of Scott's new book, North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail. When the couple set out on this challenge in mid-2015, it was also a pivotal moment in their marriage.
"Jenny had been through a couple miscarriages, and we were trying to figure out our direction in life," he admits. "Are we going to not have children? Are we going to adopt? We were sorting that stuff out and we needed to recalibrate. Most couples wouldn't take on a speed record of the Appalachian Trail to recalibrate, but for us, it was just what we needed. We were like, life is short, we've got to do this now." (Related: How I Learned to Trust My Body Again After a Miscarriage)
Tackling the Challenge Together
So, the couple refinanced their house, bought a van, and made their Appalachian adventure happen. While Scott ran the trail, it was Jenny's job to crew for him, so to speak-driving ahead of him near the route to greet him at pit stops with anything from snacks and energy gels to socks, headgear, water, or a jacket.
"I was driving the van up the trail to several meeting locations where he would refill his water, get more food, maybe change his shirt-I was basically a traveling aid station for him, and then also just company," Jenny tells Shape. "For 16 to 18 hours a day he was in this tunnel, out of touch. And then he'd see me, and I'd bring him back to real life. On the trail, every day he had to put on the same muddy shoes and wet socks and dirty clothes, and every day he knew he had another 50 miles ahead." (Related: This Is the Grueling Reality of What It's Like to Run an Ultramarathon)
While Scott may have been the one logging those insane miles every day, he says that Jenny experienced her own revelations from the challenge. "It wasn't an easy job," he says. "She was driving, she had to find a place to do laundry in these tiny remote mountain towns, she had to get food and make me food-to see her put in so much effort to support me-I was blown away."
Training for ultra-distances called for sacrifices on both sides. "The level at which she gave of herself and how much she sacrificed, I think that says so much in terms of a partnership," says Scott. "I think that's what makes a good partner; you can still be loving but you also want to push your partner to that place where they feel like they're giving it their all, and then some."
Crossing the "Finish Line" Stronger
So, are you wondering if setting this lofty goal was worth it? Was it what the couple needed to recalibrate? "When you challenge your relationship and yourself with these transformative experiences, you come out a different person," says Scott. "Sometimes these adventures and challenges take on a life of their own and you just have to roll with it because there's something in there to be learned."
Since this defining journey, the couple has had two children-a daughter, Raven, born in 2016, and a son, born just a few weeks ago.
"Being on the trail together, working toward a common goal, helped us to be communicative and understanding and also have a lot of trust in each other, so I think it helped prepare us for having kids," says Scott. "I feel very fortunate. There was a silver lining to everything we went through."