“Eat & Run,” is full of sweat and tears — there’s some blood, too — and interestingly, Jurek has included some easy vegan recipes that break up his inspiring story in all the right places. Try his Minnesota Winter Chili on page 70; you won’t miss the meat.

On the surface, Scott Jurek seems like the definition of a guy who goes to extremes.

He’s an ultramarathon champion many times over. He runs 50, 100, sometimes 150 miles at a clip. He’s won the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run through the Sierra Nevadas seven times, Greece’s famed 153-mile Spartathlon three times and the Badwater Ultramarathon — 135 miles from Death Valley to Mount Whitney — twice.

And he’s done all that — won all that — without eating meat. He’s a vegan — he eats no chicken, fish, dairy or eggs. His is a plant-based diet, an unusual lifestyle in the athletic community.

Now, the 38-year-old Minnesota native hopes to inspire others to make a change, live healthier, try something new — maybe even transform your life — through his new book, “Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness.” It’s a combination memoir about his athletic and family life and a guidebook about how you, too, can give plant-based eating a try.

An unlikely discovery

Jurek never set out to be a vegan superathlete, he said. “I wasn’t the the fastest kid in my school, or the strongest, or even the smartest,” he writes in his book. “ I was common as grass, longing for something I couldn’t even name. I was like everyone else, the same. Then I found something.”

That “something” was running. He was good, but not the best. Then, he discovered what he put in his body made a difference.

“It wasn’t like one day a light bulb went on,” he said during a telephone interview from Boulder, Colo., where he now makes his home. Over time, he began to see how eating more vegetables and less meat and dairy affected his running and his overall health.

His home life

Jurek grew up in Deluth, Minn., in a family where his dad, Gordy, was a tough taskmaster and his gentler mom, Lynn, was a good cook who had her own cooking show on the local cable channel. Then she started to drop things and have trouble walking. The diagnosis was devastating: multiple sclerosis.

Scott helped out around the house, doing chores and caring for his younger siblings and, in the process, learned to be a good cook. It wasn’t an easy life, but his mother’s illness sparked his later interest to become a physical therapist where he questioned the quality of hospital food.

“My experience with my mother, and seeing the amount of chronic disease, made me think about the whole concept of the body healing itself,” Jurek said. “For me, it’s about long-term health.”

His school life

In high school, Jurek won awards as a cross-country skier, but wasn’t in the top tier. Then, in college, he took up running. Running brought him a focus and a mental freedom. He wasn’t the fastest, but he could go far. Back then, he was eating a lot of hamburgers. His idea of a vegetable was canned corn.

In line at a McDonald’s, he met a girl. Leah wore Birkenstocks; she was kind of a hippie, and introduced him to the vegetarian lifestyle. Over time, Jurek slowly eliminated meat from his diet, eating more beans, rice and whole grains, avocados, fresh fruits, nuts and seeds, flax oil, tempeh and tofu and vegetables, lots and lots of green vegetables like kale and other leafy greens. He began to notice he felt better and his running times were dropping. In 1994 he placed first in the Minnesota Voyageur; other wins soon followed, including his first Western States win in 1999.

Running and cooking

“Eat & Run,” is full of sweat and tears — there’s some blood, too — and interestingly, Jurek has included some easy vegan recipes that break up his inspiring story in all the right places. Try his Minnesota Winter Chili on page 70; you won’t miss the meat.

 “I’m not trying to preach a particular gospel,” Jurek said, but he’s concerned Americans don’t eat well or get enough exercise. Maybe try walking, swimming or running, he says, or try eliminating meat once or twice a week. “It’s really a story about learning things along the way that can have a big impact.”

“As an athlete, I feel more energetic; my skin, my body feels better.” Going vegan also helped him pare down by about 15 pounds, a lighter load is a huge asset for runners.

The flavors of food are more stimulating to him now, he added. His biggest problem is getting enough calories to replace those he burns while exercising.

“For me, it’s about getting in the main meals, then grazing throughout the day.” He’s on the go a lot, racing and giving talks. He brings along a travel blender to make smoothies. When he’s out with friends, ethnic restaurants often offer the best choices for vegans.

More than a marathon

Athletes who compete in ultramarathons aren’t that different from the average athlete, Jurek said.

He doesn’t spend hours and hours training. He’s up and out the door at 6 or 7 a.m., and usually runs for just an hour or an hour-and-a-half on weekdays. He puts in 100 to 120 miles a week — and most of that is on weekends. He also hits the gym a couple of times a week.

Jurek said he feels pain just like other people do, that running really long distances is hard work. But he may be more mentally focused than others. He often thinks about his mother, who continued to physically deteriorate and died when she was just 58, and how her illness taught him about getting through challenges, both physical and mental.

“If she could do what she could do and still have this very stoic and humble approach to life,” he said. “She had so many things in her life taken away from her. I realize the ability to move and do simple daily tasks is sometimes taken for granted.”