By Andrew Drummond
It’s 2pm and I’m approaching the summit of Katahdin. An impressive number of hikers have gathered to witness Scott Jurek as he makes his final steps on his 46 day, 8 hour, and 7 minute speed record odyssey. The cheers overpower the gusting winds sweeping through the mountains of Baxter State Park. I’m running to catch up, carrying a couple bottles of champagne in one hand and a videographer’s pack in the other. How the hell did I end up here?
Three years ago I, along with many other running enthusiasts, was introduced to Scott through the book Born to Run and subsequently from his book, Eat & Run. When I heard he was attempting a supported speed record on the AT I thought it would be cool to spectate or run a little on the Presidential Range. Fast-forward several weeks and not only was I with him on the Presidentials but I was with him for the entire 100-mile section of the White Mountains that the AT transects.
It started with a couple texts, phone calls, and messages. Scott’s good friend Timmy O’Neill had reached out to his connections in the Mount Washington Valley in search of a local to run with Scott through the Whites. This was mid morning of July 1st and he needed someone for July 2nd. The word trickled down that I had a lot of experience hiking this area and even more important, haven’t really been working much. Timmy called me to confirm that I was in then quickly started laying out their lofty mileage goals for the Whites. I quickly realized that I just signed up for my first ultra.
I pulled into Glencliff NH to meet Timmy and Scott’s wife Jenny on the following morning, Scott’s 37th day on the trail. No more than a minute after arriving, Scott and his crew came shuffling across the road to their support vehicle. Scott looked pretty much as I envisioned for someone who had been averaging nearly 50 miles per day through the rugged terrain of the AT – gaunt and exhausted. I scrambled to get my pack together while Timmy briefed me on what was going on. Scott was behind on his mileage and they wanted to get him into the Franconia Range that night. Holy shit that’s far. Jenny handed me some of Scott’s food, clothing, and their tracker and we were off.
The next 70 hours were a blur. We barely slept and made some poor decisions but also some great ones. It’s clear that Scott has the utmost respect for the AT, especially the White Mountains and through all the sleep deprivation and physical pain, he still expressed his awe and appreciation of the mountains he traversed. I could write a short story detailing this part of Scott’s journey but here are some of the highlights and takeaways from this experience:
- His support crew for this record attempt was unimaginably small given Scott’s notoriety in the ultrarunning community. Scott ran a significant section of the trail solo earlier on the AT whereas others might have had a few people like myself sherpa’ing his gear and setting up his sleeping locations. His wife deserves so much credit for making this record happen. It’s difficult to explain the amount of work it takes to pull something like this off. She was constantly driving from trailhead to trailhead with stops in towns to resupply, cooking to-go meals for Scott, picking up additional support crew, coordinating with media, sponsors, and more, all on little sleep. As Timmy put it, “Scott is a country and is at war with the AT and Jenny is the president.”
- The AT doesn’t care who you are or how fit you are. It will break you. Scott generally set and maintained a pace of roughly one to three miles per hour, occasionally hitting speeds of five miles per hour on flat rock/root-free sections (very rare in NH and ME). Not exactly blazing for a trail runner. Once you start stacking up the miles, time on feet, and subsequent lack of sleep, the body starts to breakdown and the terrain will further limit your pace.
- Scott is empathetic almost to a fault but this is part of what drives him, fear of letting others down. It blew my mind how often he apologized for things like having me carry his poles for sections, looking up mileage, or for not moving fast enough. He also never turned down a photo or autograph and he made a point to connect with the thru-hikers we passed along the way – “Hey, you heading to Springer? What’s your trail name? That’s awesome, have a great trip!” You have to think, cumulatively this guy is losing hours on the trail in the process of pleasing hundreds of fans along the way. All part of the deal of being in the spotlight, but he was a true professional dealing with the super fans.
- And there were many fans! We encountered some from as far away as Prague whose vacation plans were adjusted just to catch Scott on the trail. Some of the larger “Jurek Conga Lines” were met coming out of Zealand Notch and the Presidentials.
- There is Scott Jurek and Scott Jurek™. Heading up Mount Washington the pacers had to hold up a quarter mile from the summit so they could get “the shot” using drones, and various camera angles. We also had photographers with us running sections of the trail who had their shots that they needed, often with just Scott in them. Plus, there’s social media and you’d never see a photo of Scott Jurek™ suffering. But Scott is human and was indeed suffering, especially late in the night covering difficult terrain. He was dealing with his own demons at that point.
- A testament to Scott’s character and reputation, knowledgeable and talented runners came out of the woodwork to support him. The runners on my leg included Andrew Thompson (former AT FKT record holder and current NH 48 4,000 footer FKT record holder - 3 days 14 hours, WTF!), Jonathan Miller who coordinated pizza and sushi delivery on the trail, local trail beast Tristan Williams (who works for the AMC), and local adventure junky Gabe Flanders. Later on in Maine, Scott had help from Ryan Welts, Kristina Folcik-Welts, Nate Sanel, Joe Wrobleski, and John Rodrigue, just to name a few. We all walked away wanting more time on the trail with Scott.
This last point brings me back to the Summit of Katahdin. I did want more. Scott and his crew made me feel like I was part of their team. After the Whites, I spent that week tracking him like many others. When it was clear by midweek that he was going to finish over the weekend, my girlfriend Hilary McCloy and I headed up to Baxter State Park with the plan to surprise Scott at the summit. Side note, Hilary also was pulled in to do some PT work on Scott and shared the desire to see this through.
After spending Saturday hiking around the park and wanting to help crew Scott, we headed to the AT crossing at Abol Bridge (~15 mile mark). There we randomly met another visiting runner who was friends with Scott’s pacer. After a few beers we decided why wait for him when we can run to him. It was 10pm and we took off into the 100 mile wilderness. After running for over two hours with no sign of Scott we laid down to evaluate the situation – do we turn around and head back? Do we stay and wait in the rain? Ten minutes went by and at 1am headlights emerged from the darkness. We had made the right decision.
Scott came through with Topher Gaylord and Krissy Moehl and we hopped in line. He was in rough shape – just a couple naps in the 100 mile wilderness - so I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t recognize me. Ten minutes into our hike he put it together (perhaps he had already blocked the trauma of the Whites??), “ANDREW?! THAT ANDREW?!” he exclaimed. He figured I was another friend of Topher’s but lit up and gave me a monster hug. We chatted and caught up since we parted ways in Gorham last Sunday. He filled me in on his battle with the Mahoosucs and 100 Mile Wilderness, the “mooseflies”, endless PUDs (pointless ups and downs), sections of the trail where you feel like you’re going every direction but north, and how he was so depleted that he never got a rush from crossing the state line into Maine or when he caught his first glimpse of Katahdin.
As daybreak arrived, Scott began his last day on the AT. He was literally and figuratively out of the woods with enough time to get a quick nap and prepare for his final push. We ran most of the next ten miles on some of the most forgiving terrain that I saw while with Scott. During that stretch we hit single digits and Scott was visibly uplifted.
We ran into Katahdin Stream Campground with five miles to go and at that point it became clear that he just wanted to put the record aside and try to enjoy the homestretch. Hilary and I hiked ahead as Scott was accompanied by his wife and close friends who flew out to support him.
He made short work of the Hunt trail finishing well within his four hour buffer and the celebration commenced. After a few thank you’s Scott answered questions and posed for photos until everyone had their Scott Jurek selfie. You simply couldn’t script a better ending.
A huge thanks to Scott, Jenny, and Timmy for making us locals part of the experience and for leaving us wanting more.
And a huge thanks to Andrew for putting this together for us! An incredible story, and an even more incredible experience for sure. As if that wasn’t good enough, here’s video of Scott from the top of Katahdin where he took the time to sit and chat with everyone who made it out there to witness the moment when he finally broke the record.
Finally, as Andrew pointed out to us, you can get a sense of the social interest in Scott’s endeavor by checking out this WhiteBlaze.net message board. Also an interesting set of stats compiled by one user here (DropBox account needed).