Saturday, December 22, 2012

Eat & Run

Just finished reading Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatnessby Scott Jurek (with Steve Friedman). While I'm happy that the book has motivated me to run a little (lot) more consistently, I mostly didn't like it, for two reasons. One, the writing was tired and cliched. Two, there were too many pseudo-scientific and psuedo-spiritual claims about the source of his running prowess (e.g. homeopathy, cleansing toxins, etc.). For good measure they mentioned one of the many horrible statistical studies showing that sitting makes people die early (tangent you've heard before: just because you control for smoking and other aspects of lifestyle doesn't mean you get at causality. If there is anything in the world that you did not include in your analysis that is correlated with both sitting and life expectancy, then your estimate of the effect of sitting on life expectancy is incorrect. And if there are plenty of things that you can measure that are correlated with both (like smoking) that you do include, why the hell would you think that there is not a single other thing out there that you can't or didn't quantify that is also correlated with both? Run a randomized trial of assigning sitting desks and standing desks, and then I'll believe it. OK, on with the show.)

This is not to take away from Jurek's accomplishments, because I believe that he's had some rough things happen in his personal life, he's one of the best ultra-marathoners ever, and from all accounts, he's a very nice and humble person. As a vegan, I think it's great that he's one too. I just can't read this much self-help style pseudo-science without rolling my eyes. Again, Scott Jurek's story of overcoming adversity and becoming a champion is amazing. He won Western States seven times in a row, for crying out loud. I just didn't think the book was written very well, that's all. If you're less of a cynic than me and you like vegetables and running, you might very well love it.

For an interesting take on the science of plant-based diets and sports competition, see this NYT piece.
I think this quote is pretty sensible:
In general, vegetarians are healthier, with less risk for heart disease and obesity, although there are obese vegetarians. Many people tell me after they start a vegetarian diet that they feel better, but then again, many of them — and I believe this was the case with Scott Jurek — were eating a pretty poor diet before, so of course they feel better. They could have switched to a healthier meat-based diet and they would probably have felt better. 

One interesting side note: Jurek is quite a competitor. It should have been obvious that to win that many races, you have to actually care about winning, per se, but I guess I sort of imagined him as ignoring other people and racing against himself. Jurek does stuff to psych out his competition, like turning off his headlamp to sneak up on people, or pass them and not look back to demoralize them. This is totally standard fare at the front of every race of any distance, it was just interesting and surprising to me since I don't care very much about beating other people. Mostly when I see other runners on the course I'm hoping we'll strike up a conversation and I'll make a new friend.


  1. Nice review. I haven't read the book yet, but I've made several of the recipes from it. I have to say, they've all been pretty amazing. Perhaps he should have just made a cookbook...?

  2. I think that if you were racing for the win and you were relatively close to the finish you'd do everything in your power, mind tricks included, to secure it... or at least I hope that you would.

  3. I should give some of his recipes a try. That said, I should probably give _recipes_ a try, but I'm pretty happy with my simple formula of [whatever the CSA gave me]+salt+olive oil+heat.

    And yeh, I'd probably be competitive if I were anywhere near the front. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just never really entered my world; I didn't do HS or college track.