Book Review and Recommendation: NORTH: A Memoir About Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott and Jenny Jurek

by Thomas O'Grady

North: A Memoir About Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail is a deeply personal account of ultrarunner Scott Jurek's ambitious quest to set a new fastest known time (FKT) on the legendary Appalachian Trail (AT). The book is co-authored with Scott’s wife, Jenny Jurek, and provides a dual perspective on the duo's challenges and triumphs as they set out on the monumental endeavor to set the Appalachian Trail FKT.

For those who are not aware, Scott Jurek, is a seasoned ultramarathoner who has compiled numerous running accolades throughout his storied career. Scott embarks on the grueling 2,189-mile journey along the AT during a pivotal point in his life. First and foremost, Scott is facing the inevitability of aging and trying like all humans to deal with this natural process in a productive way. Scott also has a desire to reignite his passion for running and ultra-related pursuits. There is not a clear objective left to tackle for this individual who enjoys pushing himself to the brink of physical and mental endurance. The memoir vividly captures the brutal realities of the trail and an FKT attempt on a trail of such notoriety: the relentless fatigue, the unforgiving terrain, and the constant battle against time.

Jenny Jurek's contributions are equally compelling, offering insights into the emotional and logistical struggles of supporting a loved one through such an arduous challenge. Her perspective adds greater depth to Scott’s narrative, highlighting the fact that even in an individual sport like running, a team effort is required to succeed. Jenny is also clear about the strains that the attempt places on their relationship. Together, their voices create a holistic picture of the journey, emphasizing themes of resilience, teamwork, and self-discovery.

The book is not just about running; it is a personal account about the human spirit, the pursuit of one's dreams, and understanding and pushing against one’s own limits. Scott's reflections on his past, his motivations, and the lessons he learns along the way are inspiring. The descriptions of the Appalachian Trail's natural beauty, contrasted with the raw depiction of Scott’s physical and mental struggles along the trail, and coupled with the descriptions of the communities that the trail passes through make for a gripping read.

Overall, North is a great read and is especially appealing for the trail runners, mountain goats, and ultra-marathoners among us. The book is enjoyable for anyone interested in ultrarunning, adventure, or personal growth and development. Scott and Jenny Jurek's honest and heartfelt storytelling will resonate with both athletes and non-athletes as well as the competitive and non-competitive among us. Their journey exemplifies the power of determination and the importance of support systems in achieving extraordinary goals. I have read this book previously, but I found myself revisiting it during the natural post-Boston Marathon lull that typically accompanies late spring.

Whether you are a seasoned runner, an outdoor enthusiast, or someone seeking motivation to overcome life's challenges, this memoir will likely inspire you to push beyond your perceived limits and find your own path to fulfillment.

Tom O'Grady is a runner, coach, and public health professional. In addition to being the Editor of  The Pace Setter, Tom also writes book reviews and covers a variety of topic areas for The Pace Setter.

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