Scott Jurek’s speed attempt on the Appalachian Trail is a real Nail Biter

scott jurekIf you are interested in the outdoors, the Appalachian Trail and the Maine wilderness, and haven’t been following ultra runner Scott Jurek’s attempt to set a new speed record on the Appalachian Trail this month, you are missing out. The current definitive account circulating on line is from Outside Magazine, but if you are interested in literally minute by minute updates from the Maine running community, check out this thread on MDI Marathon Race Director Gary Allen’s Facebook page.

The long and short of it is, Scott Jurek is a world renowned ultra runner (winner of the Western States Ultra (100 mile) race 7 times), featured in Chris McDougall’s Born to Run, and author in his own right (Eat and Run-part memoir, part vegan athlete manifesto, recipes included). At age 41 (I feel his pain), his competitive ultra running career is senescing and his priorities are shifting. As a final hurrah he decided to try to set a new speed record on the Appalachian Trail. According to Outside Magazine the current record is 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes, which means Scott has until 5:15 pm EDT on Sunday July 12 to reach the top of Katahdin. As I write this he is a couple of hours or so past being ferried across the Kennebec and approaching Pleasant Pond Mountain northeast of Caratunk (yep he is wearing a live tracker so you can see where he is!)

The plan was to get at least 50 miles a day, which would add up to easily beating the record. The trail of course has had other plans for Scott, with injuries and terrain slowing him down. And we Mainers have always known that the trail in northern New England, specifically New Hampshire and Maine is the baddest ass part of the trail, but maybe Scott didn’t believe the hype. I think he does now.

He’s coming right down to the wire on this one. The 50 miles a day and as many hours of rest a night as possible plan has devolved into moving as much as possible, whenever possible. From the live tracker it looks like he hiked most of the night in order to make it to the Kennebec this morning (the woman who volunteered to ferry him across in her canoe slept by the side of the river all night waiting).  Currently he has about 144 miles to go, and about 78 hours to do it in. That’s just under 2 miles an hour. That is why this is such a nail biter.

Sure, there are plenty of haters out there, posting on message boards about how pointless it is, how not “pure” the attempt is, how the trail should be for hikers only, and how Scott is just in it for the publicity. I guess there always be haters (what’s that saying about opinions and a certain lower intestinal body part?), but I am not one of them. I’ve been excited about this since he started, and now that he is in Maine on trails I know, mountains I have climbed, places I have camped, it is all that much more real. Scott has inspired me in many ways, and the grueling nature of his work on the trail in Maine is just the icing on that inspiration cake. Not in a beautiful rainbow in the sky, waterfall and unicorn way, but in a ‘sometimes you have to put your head down and suffer more than anyone thought possible’ kind of way. In a ‘this sounded like a good idea when we dreamed it up last winter’ kind of way. In a “it don’t gotta be fun to be fun” kind of way (the advice I got when I lotteried into to the Mt. Washington Road Race for the first time). What Scott is doing isn’t fun anymore. But the end is in sight and he is going for it, he’s traveling over terrain in the state I love day and night, in conditions I would pale at. And no matter what anyone says, that is pretty damn bad ass.

I’ll be in Baxter on Saturday, and maybe even on the Hunt trail, by way of dumb lucky timing. If I’m really lucky I’ll get to cheer him through. Between now and then I’ll be following along online, just like so many of us here in the northeast, shouting out our encouragement online in this strange modern world we live in.

Good luck Scott-you got this.

Sarah O'Malley

About Sarah O'Malley

Sarah is a science educator, naturalist, writer, tide pool fanatic and burgeoning obsessive trail runner. From personal experience she believes strongly in the restorative power of contact with nature, especially experiences that make your heart beat a little faster or get your hands and feet dirty. She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula with her husband and two dogs.