Scott Jurek Ultra-Impressed by Niseko Trail-Running Scene
He's written a New York Times best-seller and set countless records in the world of ultra marathon and trail-running. And Scott Jurek was impressed by the beauty of Niseko and the passion of its local trail-running community.
As he took a short pit-stop from his round-Hokkaido family cycling trip, we caught up with ultra-marathon legend Scott Jurek to talk about running, inspiration and Niseko as a summer holiday destination.
Scott, welcome to Niseko! What is it that brings you here?
We’ve been hearing about it for years from our friends who ski here in the winter and we wanted to check it out while we are here in Hokkaido during the summer. There is a rich trail running scene and mountain culture here that gets overshadowed by the skiing.
You’re travelling around Hokkaido with your wife and two kids. Which is kinda normal, though you’re doing it all on push bikes! Tell us a bit about that.
It’s always something we wanted to do. Travelling by bike as a family is a great way to experience the culture. My wife Jenny is half Japanese so we wanted to show the kids their heritage. We camp at a different location each night where they really get to connect with the locals, see a variety of terrain, soak in different onsens and enjoy the food!
What are your impressions of Hokkaido as a summer destination?
There’s a wide variety of ecosystems, from beaches to high mountains, stunning coastlines and wide open farmland, it really has it all. Life moves more slowly on Hokkaido, it’s very relaxing. Summer is a great time to really delve into Hokkaido’s identity without the crowds, there’s always a quiet space you can escape to.
You hosted a book signing, a talk and a group run while here in Niseko. Were you impressed with the turnout?
We had a mix of people from Tokyo, Hong Kong and all over Hokkaido, it was a great group! We were on holiday with our family and didn’t intent to do any events but the trail running community, Sprout Coffee and Skye Niseko rallied to make it happen which was great.
Despite trail running being an ‘individual’ sport – there seems to be a strong global community of trail runners. Any thoughts on Niseko’s trail running community?
I think that’s what makes the sport so special, running is really inviting and brings together a diverse group of people. For a small population, Niseko has a dedicated group of trail runners who have a vibrant energy. It was neat to see how a local coffee shop like Sprout and a hotel like Skye Niseko have turned into hubs for the running community because they have enthusiastic employees who are plugged into the running scene.
Why do you run?
I run for the simplicity of a mode of transport and exploring the world around me. There is something primal about running and the adaptability and survival instincts it exercises. Running is also a form of meditation for me.
Will you ever stop?
As long as I am physically able to, I will continue to run. Maybe not as fast or as far as I have in the past, but hopefully with the same joy and passion I’ve known for the past 27 years.
In addition to running, what else do you do to improve your wellness?
I do yoga, strength training, Nordic skiing, ski touring, lightweight backpacking and some biking.
Tell me about the time you were in the most pain during a trail run?
On the Appalachian Trail, one week in and having two injuries. One on each leg. All with another six weeks of non-stop running ahead of me. For the whole story read my book NORTH, especially chapters four and five!
Niseko hosts in own half marathon each year and there are other popular marathons in Hokkaido such as the Sapporo Marathon and the Lake Toya Marathon. What advice would you give those competing in a long distance race for the first time?
Pacing the first 5-7 miles is so important. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the race and go faster than planned. Keep that enthusiasm in check so there’s something to give during those last five miles.
Your other main pursuit is book-writing - what parallels can be drawn between running an ultra-marathon and writing a book?
Writing a book is much like an ultra-marathon. It often seems like it will never end and the task can seem daunting. It’s important to ride out the low points knowing things will get better and to focus on small manageable goals instead of the larger task.
Which is more satisfying to complete?
They each have their satisfaction, but it’s pretty hard to beat being on top of a mountain or making it to the finish line, knowing that I’ve gone places and dug deeper than I ever thought I could. It’s a feeling like nothing I’ve ever experienced and I’ve used it to get through a lot of difficult times in life.
Tell us about your book, NORTH.
NORTH is a type of memoir that focusses on a shorter timeline and one major accomplishment in my running career, my 2015 speed record on the Appalachian Trail. It’s an adventure story that delves into why I needed to go back to the difficult places and the discomfort of the sport that I had lost passion for. I needed something to light a fire in me and doing this together with my partner and best friend, Jenny, made it all the more special. It is so much more than a running book. We also use a split voice narrative to bring the reader into each of our worlds while on the Appalachian Trail for 46 days. Jenny was integral to the journey and we needed to tell her viewpoint on and off the trail.
How has your stay been at Skye Niseko?
It’s been a rejuvenating few days in Hokkaido between the hotel onsen, the easy access to the trails and mountains, and the food at Kumo Restaurant. Not to mention the killer views! Skye Niseko is a great place for families, our kids don’t want to leave! The service has been so helpful, they really go the extra distance (pun intended) to make sure everything is dialled. The chefs at Kumo Restaurant made some of the best vegan selections we’ve had in Japan.
Check out some of the best local trail runs, according to Niseko's expert local ultra-marathon runner.