Why trail-running legend Scott Jurek plans fun run in Hong Kong Moontrekker

Jurek, one of ultrarunning’s most decorated athletes, says his goal for the 43km overnight Lantau trail race on October 14 is enjoyment, rather than winning

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 12:53am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 12:51pm

He is one of the greatest runners of all time, bagging victories in almost all of ultrarunning’s elite trail and road events. But don’t count on Scott Jurek adding to that long list of wins when he lines up at the start line of the Barclays Moontrekker this Friday October 14 in Mui Wo.

“My goal is to have fun,” says Jurek, who is participating in the 43-kilometre overnight trail race for the first time. “So those of you who want to run with me, I’m not going to be taking off trying to win the event. I’m going to let other folks do that this time around.”

For those among the race’s 1,500 participants who can keep up with Jurek’s “fun” pace, it will be a real treat. The American has inspired legions of people around the world, not only with his running achievements, but also because of his philosophy towards the sport and nutrition. A vegan since 1999, Jurek opened up about his life and career in his 2012 memoir, Eat & Run, a New York Times bestseller that greatly raised the 42-year-old’s international profile.

Among his resume of titles include the historic 246km Spartathlon, the Hardrock 100, the Badwater 135-Mile (217km) Ultramarathon, and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, which he won a record seven straight times. Last year, he ran the 3,524km Appalachian Trail that cuts through 14 states from Maine to Georgia in the US, averaging nearly 80km a day to finish in 46 days, eight hours and seven minutes. It was a speed record until recently when Jurek’s buddy Karl Meltzer broke it.

Was Jurek sure he didn’t want to try to win the Moontrekker?

“I’m definitely going to be taking it easy, for sure,” he confirms. “I think a lot of individuals have problems with letting go of that competitive side. I’ve been doing this for 22 years, maybe it has kind of worn me down a little bit. I enjoy going out and having fun and I’m looking forward to just enjoying Lantau Island on Friday.

“[The Appalachian Trail] was 46 days of running almost 80 kilometres a day over a half a million vertical feet up and half a million vertical feet down. That’s what I did last summer and this year has not been a year of racing for me. I’ve just been trying to let the body recover and bounce back because it was a huge undertaking. My body was definitely out of whack after that. I lost 8.5 kilograms. My whole body needed some time to recover. So, I’m having fun.”

With Jurek counting himself out, the winner may well be a local face. A number of previous Moontrekker winners will be returning to the race, including Claire Price and Stone Tsang, who holds the course record of 4 hours 16 minutes 56 seconds. The event will also pit some of Hong Kong’s biggest multinational firms against each other in friendly competition, including Barclays, CBRE, Credit Suisse, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, Intel, KPMG, Lidl and Swire.

Jurek was last in Hong Kong 14 years ago, as part of the American Montrail Protrek team that won the Oxfam Trailwalker 100 kilometre race. His return this time was due to an invitation from The Nature Conservancy, the Moontrekker’s charity partner. Jurek is a passionate supporter of environmental conservation and had worked with the non-profit organisation on a project in Kenya previously.

Arriving in Hong Kong from his residence in Colorado, it may seem Jurek has a time zone advantage for Moontrekker, which flags off at 8.30pm for the 43km event and 11pm for the 30km event. Participants often battle with slumber, especially after midnight.

Jurek suggests participants eat three hours before race start, and arrive at the start line with a light snack like an energy bar or drink. To stay awake at night, caffeine is the open secret - but don’t start on it too early, Jurek says.

“Wait until you’re a few hours into the race to start the caffeine, so you can get an effect later. You can use the caffeine not only to keep awake and alert, but also to help engage those tired leg muscles. I would recommend a form of caffeine in energy gels or drinks,” he says.

“Lights are a big issue too. I’m a big fan of having the brightest headlamp and light possible - there’s no reason to skimp on light. Make sure you’ve tried it and the batteries are brand new. I’m a big fan of lithium batteries when it comes to night running because they’re half the weight or less than most alkalines.”

As if sleep deprivation and running in the dark is not challenging enough, the course itself is no walk in a country park: it snakes around the Chi Ma Wan peninsula, skirts on the contour trail in the shadow of Sunset Peak and goes up and down the 934-metre Lantau Peak before ending in Pui O.

"Most participants won’t get through Friday night without at least one low point," Jurek admits. "Most of us will experience several of those low points."

When things do get miserable, Jurek says he has a couple of ways to deal with it.

"I try to focus on what I’m trying to accomplish, so for example for the Appalachian Trail it was to break the record. Reminding yourself of the goals you have is very important. Some people only have one goal and I tell people have B or C goals in case the A goal gets thrown out the window and you have no way in hell you’re going to achieve it. Have some back up goals that are still very worthy," he says.

"Other things that are helpful for me is having an intention with the race. Sometimes I offer up the discomfort and pain. I used to run for my mother because she couldn’t run with multiple sclerosis and she couldn’t walk and she was in a lot of discomfort. So I think whether it’s a charity or an individual, having something that you’re running for beyond yourself can be motivating too during those times.

"And then a lot of times it comes down to just knowing that discomfort and a tough time is where you learn the most. That’s when I think magic happens, when you become stronger not just physically but mentally, and those experiences also help you in life. Embrace those times and know that things are going to turn around and get better. Getting out of the dark deep or despair and tough times of races have been the most revealing to me and been the most memorable too."