This article was published in the “Vegetarian Action” section of the Vegetarian Journal
Scott Jurek is a well-known figure in the running community, and not just because of the races he’s won or the records he’s set. As an ultrarunner — a runner who competes in races beyond the distance of a marathon — Jurek follows a vegan diet, which surprises many runners and athletes who believe that endurance training requires animal protein for muscular fuel. Jurek’s achievements are vast and include setting the U.S. record for a 24-hour road run, seven consecutive wins at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, three consecutive wins at the Spartathlon 152-mile race, and two consecutive wins at the 135-mile Badwater run, to name a few. He credits much of his success to his healthy vegan diet, training, and racing with confidence. “When you know what’s going into your body, it’s a huge mental advantage,” says Jurek. However, he stresses that veganism is not a quick fix. “My vegan diet is a cornerstone to my success, but it’s not everything. It can be advantageous, but it’s just one component of health,” he says, noting that stress management, sleep, and physical activity all hold similar importance. He strives to impart the need for a well-rounded approach to overall health.
Jurek believes in leading by example and hopes he is someone other vegan and vegetarian athletes can point to as an example when faced with doubts from skeptical coaches, family members, and friends. “The longevity of the sport and excelling for 20-some years at the sport are a real boost of inspiration,” he says.
Beyond serving as an example of athletic success, Jurek brings awareness to issues of health, environmentalism, and animal welfare through his sport. He’s served as a celebrity coach for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and he’s partnered with The Farm Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to ending industrialized farming practices and to rescuing abused farm animals. As an attendee at the Kahtoola Conservation Athlete Rendezvous, Jurek and other notables banded together to support the proposed national monument site of the Grand Canyon. “We compete in these amazing places, and we feel a duty to protect them,” says Jurek with regard to the event.
Through The Nature Conservancy, Jurek has attended international runs in Hong Kong, Kenya, Indonesia, and other locations to bring light to issues of pollution, overpopulation, poaching, and deforestation. He says, “Runners get to see these places firsthand, and then they can see the importance of the conservation projects.” Though he’s brought attention to environmentalism and animal welfare, Jurek believes health and wellness are the best topics for him to focus on when attempting to attract others to the diet and lifestyle. “I can reach more people that way and eventually they see the other benefits, too.” Jurek’s success speaks for itself, and he rarely has others openly criticize his dietary choices now that he’s achieved numerous records and wins. He truly leads by example, using his influence in positive but modest ways, allowing the curiosity of others to drive the conversation. His success and efforts with charities and other non-profits serve as a catalyst for conversation and change. When asked what advice he’d offer to young vegan and vegetarian athletes, he says to focus on integration not elimination. For overall advice, he offers the wisdom, “Keep learning through life.” Running and a vegan diet enriched his life, opening his eyes to new possibilities. “It was a big challenge to go vegan with the way that I was brought up.” He says that if people had told him years ago that he’d be a successful vegan runner today, he would’ve thought they were crazy. Now he knows better because he embraced new ideas. “It’s good to be challenged and put yourself in a less comfortable position,” says Jurek. “You can be vegan and still be strong; you can be vegan and still be at the top of your sport,” he says.