THE BLOG

An Afternoon With Scott Jurek

05/27/2015 11:55 am ET | Updated May 27, 2016

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Photo Credit: Casey Atkins

"Scott Jurek is a veritable demigod in the sport of ultrarunning,"  (Tim Ferriss)

We all have moments when we want to give up. When pressure or pain becomes too high, it feels natural to throw in the towel. But it is going that extra mile that divides victors from losers. When Scott Jurek, world-famous athlete and dedicated vegan, visited Harvard Business School last week, his fireside chat with Jose B. Alvarez, HBS senior lecturer, revealed lessons that will make you go that extra mile.

What makes runners run for very long distances? As one of the most dominant ultramarathon runners in the world, Scott is an authority to answer that question. His main discussion focused on the connection between diet, health and the environmental footprint. But I will uncover and share three hidden lessons from his talk that will help you go that extra mile.

Isn't it ironic? Scott used to hate running. He said that he saw it as something one did as part of punishment in gym class. What changed his outlook was when his mother had multiple sclerosis. So when he was 20 years old he began running. Fast forward twenty years later, Scott has won many of the sport's most prestigious races multiple times.

However, it is easy to extrapolate from the past to the future. It is easy to think that if you were not good about something in the past, it will continue that way. But that is dangerous thinking. Whatever you hated or sucked at in in the past should have no bearing on your future. If you started late, who cares. Better start late than never. Focus on the present. Focus on what you can do. Step by step.

Over the years as Scott ran across the world's most amazing places, he began to care more about the environment. He described the production of animal products is rather inefficient. That's what explains his plant-based diet.

But his call for a plant-based diet is also a disguised call to think about the long-term. It has helped him to stay youthful and maintain longevity. He has been running for twenty years. Thanks to his diet and lifestyle, Scott has quicker recovery and more energy. "What matters is what happens 5-10 years down the line," Scott emphasized. And he is still able to compete with the younger folks.

"90 percent of my sport is mental, and the other 10 percent is mental, too," Scott half-jokingly said. When he cannot physically press on, he plays mental tricks on himself. If you break the larger picture into smaller chunks, all of a sudden it is becoming more manageable. Instead of focusing on the next 10 miles, focus on the next mile, he advised.

Yoga and meditation has helped him to go that extra mile. "When I am in a situation, turning to my breathing helped me to stay focused," he said. By focusing on breathing, one eliminates the noise. All those voices that tell you that you can't.

These tricks can be quite simple. "Inhale for four seconds, hold for seven, and exhale for eight," he suggested. That way  through a simple breathing technique  you control your mental outlook and focus.

You have to put yourself in tough situations, he said. Modern life has become easy, and putting yourself in tough situations practices that old age six sense or primal instinct. You have to put yourself out there. And getting out and putting his body physically at a discomfort is the best policy he knows.

And if you really want to turn vegetarian consider this: You have to add to your diet, and not just eliminate. Many people don't think about adding new food. But it is kep to be open to new tastes. You have to make it fun and adding flavors makes it more fun. Add one food to your weekly routine, he suggested. Don't be afraid to experiment, especially when you travel.

Three simple lessons. Don't be impaired by your past; think long-term, and eliminate the noise. An interesting question Scott asked himself was why people climb mountains. It is the ultimate human question, he answered. "The lost art of human survival," he added. But he did not have the answer himself. That made me curious. Live strong, live long.

This piece was originally published as an op-ed at The Harbus, the student newspaper of the Harvard Business School.