Nantucket Portrait: Jules Embry-Pelrine

Umami* of Nantucket: Jules Embry-Pelrine
By Sara Boyce

Somewhere around the 62nd sit up, my abs started screaming at me, “STOP! You’re hurting me!” That resistance was balanced by my mind saying, “It’s only 62. You can do it. Just keep going. Slow and steady wins the race.”

What: Evening CrossFit class
Where: Krav Maga | Fed Ex Building
When: A couple years ago
Instructor: Jules Embry-Pelrine

Then I heard a real voice. A quiet and deep voice that was clear, despite his own steady pace of sit ups. Our instructor, Jules Embry-Pelrine, was encouraging us, “Just keep going. You can do it. This reminds me of the time my crazy martial arts teacher made us do 1,000 sit ups to get ready for our tournament.”

Full stop.
WHAT? 1,000 sit ups? WHO DOES THAT?
Clearly: Jules does.

Jules loves to train. Growing up on Nantucket, he trained in Tae Kwon Do with Michael Miller for a few years, beginning when he was only 6, and then more seriously when he was 14 for a number of years. In 2002, he switched from Tae Kwon Do to Krav Maga, training with John Hallett. In 2007, he completed his instructor training and has been teaching since.

And he loves to run. If you don’t know him personally, you’ve probably seen Jules running around the island or featured in the Inquirer & Mirror’s photographs of local races. He’s usually one of the winners. I remember him talking about competing in an Iron Man, saying he liked all parts of the race, but that running was easy and enjoyable for him. “Some people go for a walk; some people go for a bike ride; Running is my thing. It helps me to relax. If I don’t do it, I have excess energy and sometimes even get depressed. I don’t feel right when I don’t get out to run.”

Jules teaches at the Krav Maga building (located in the Fed Ex Building at the end of Old South Road). Owner Steve Tornovish, says, “Jules is a furry little ninja who has an indomitable spirit. He is immensely talented as a martial artist and an athlete. He is disciplined in the way that a great athlete has to be, committed to constant training. He’s a great fighter, both standing up and on the ground. He’s been almost unbeatable in road races between 5K and 10K in length, for the past five or so years. His beach runs in competitions like the Rock Run have been amazing. Prior to his 100 mile run, I’ve often wondered if Jules was the best athlete on the island? This island has some great tri-athletes, no doubt, but in an overall CrossFit-type evaluation, I’d say that Jules is number one. What an amazing accomplishment!”

“I’d been thinking about this for a number of years. A soon as I started running in college, I started running longer distances.” Jules explains that most of his college races were 8K (5 Miles), which are considered middle distances. The focus of those races is speed. But at least once a week, they would take a long, slow run to recover and relax. “I started getting curious about going further, and what kind of pace I’d need to maintain.”

Martial Artist. Runner. Racer. Distance Runner. Now: Ultra Distance Runner. Ultra Running is often defined as any run longer than the standard 26.2 mile marathon. Runs are defined by distance (i.e. 100 miles) or time (i.e. 24 hours). “I’d been experimenting with distance running. It was a real revelation in how the body and mind handles running for 2, 3, 4 miles.”

Jules selected the day after his 30th birthday, September 19th, for his first 24-hour run. I was “intrigued by the challenge. I wondered how I’d feel mentally, physically, and what my body would do.” As luck would have it, there was a full moon, the night clear, and the temperature cool. All in all: perfect for running.

At 7 pm, Jules set off for 24 hours. Used to working night shifts at the hospital, he started at night, when he would be freshest. Knowing he was going to get tired, he didn’t want to be finishing at night when he was tired and potentially disoriented. While Jules had 100 miles in his mind as a goal, it was not a speed race. He kept his pace slow and steady at 15-minute miles. Giles Gregory , a fellow Distance and Ultra Runner, joined him for the first 3 – 4 hours. Jules explained how nice it was to have the company, especially with someone with whom he had trained a lot. He said they talked non-stop, and chuckled when he said, “probably because I knew I’d be alone for the majority of the run”.

His longest time running before had been 12.5 hours. “Once I hit 13 hours straight, it was the longest I’d ever been moving. I had been awake for 24 hour stretches before, but moving is something different.”


Photo by Tracy Cullinane of Jules, at 5 pm Friday, 22 hours into his run

I plied Jules with questions:

How were your feet after the race?

They looked normal after. Any soreness was just from wearing shoes for 24 hours.

What running shoes did you wear?

I wore conventional, light-ish weight running shoes. I bought the same kind I used for the Boston Marthon, and purchased them one size too big to allow for swelling.

How was your body after the race?

My body held up really well. My stomach was a little upset, but there was no cramping. No shooting pains. But I’m still a bit wobbly a few days after the run.

You clearly have the perfect frame for running.

It’s a lucky roll of the dice. Everything about my body is kind of medium. I have medium arches, height, build, and weight. I don’t have bunions or bone spurs, and no Greek Toe (when the second toe is longer than the big toe, which can lead to nail problems.)

What was the hardest part?

The hardest part was when I hit the 16 – 17 hour mark. I started to realize just how long I still had left. Still about 7 hours.

How did you handle that?

I just had to focus on keeping going. I had a GPS watch so I could track the distance. That really helped. I set miniature goals to keep going. I could keep jogging for half a mile, then take a walk break. I kept pushing the pace.

You ran 100.5 miles. Did you set the intention of completing 100 miles?

Yes. A common bench mark of a 24 hour run is 100 miles. It is a very respectable time, not for the super elite, but solid. Once I hit 100 miles, I started to walk nice and easy.

Did you get bored?

No. When I first started running long distances, it would get boring, but now, I almost never run with music. I spent a lot of time looking at the moon and the stars. There was lots of wildlife out: deer and rabbits. And it was a happy coincidence that the moon was bright enough for me. I barely even used a flashlight. Mostly, it was so that others would see me. People called throughout the day, which gave me something to focus on. Fellow athlete, Jason Bridges, said “I spoke to him 3 times during the run; he always sounded like he was relaxing at the beach!” During the day, people would slow down and wave or honk. There are plenty of things to engage in. There were times where I was very close to a meditative state. I was just aware of how I was moving.

Did you get delusional?

“There were times where it was hard, but I never reached the point where I wanted to go into zombie mode. I talked to myself a lot. I brought music, but didn’t need to listen to it. I was pretty much engaged. I had to pay attention to my pace, when to eat and when to drink.” Jules had planned his course and stashed coolers with food and drink at appropriate intervals. Although not delusional, that doesn’t mean he had enough brainpower to converse with others on the course. As Jules was visiting a cooler, a guy pulled over and tried to talk. This was about 12 hours into his run, and all Jules could say was “I’m very sorry. My brain is totally fried and I really can’t talk.” When the guy kept trying to engage him, Jules chuckles, “All I could think to do was repeat exactly what I just said to him.”

What did you eat?

I ate about 15 caffeinated energy gels, about 4 – 5 big thick Clif “Builders Bars” that each had about 250 calories. I’d have a few bites every hour or two. Someone handed me a banana and a small yogurt on the run, which was delicious. Near to the end, I ate a small handful of almonds, one by one, which I chewed down to nothing. I drank a lot of water, Recharge (an organic Gatorade, made by R.W. Knudson), about 5 yerba mates (a caffeinated herbal drink), and stopped in Annye’s to get a cold liter of coconut water, which was delicious. I made sure to vary what I was drinking, so I would not get bored and risk not wanting to drink.

Clearly, this was a personal challenge and exploration for Jules, but he was also raising money for the Marla Ceely Lamb Fund.

“I wanted to do something that was as local as possible, and be health and wellness oriented. As we’re talking now, there are probably people using the Marla Lamb Fund. It has been really exciting to see how people have gotten excited about donating. I have raised $890 so far, plus whatever people have mailed in.”

Jules’ brother, Ammon, has been battling brain cancer. “Ammon’s situation is now at a point of monitoring, and he is doing very well. He required two surgeries to remove the cancerous tumor from his brain, which was also causing seizures. He gets a brain scan every 6 months to check for any new tumor development, and everything is looking good. He is still on anti-seizure medication, and probably will need to stay on it indefinitely. He carefully monitors his diet to avoid any potential seizure triggers. He has had to make considerable lifestyle changes, as irregular sleep and stress were also contributing to his seizures.

When the tumor was first discovered, it quickly became clear that things could have been much more complicated if he needed to travel extensively for doctor appointments, etc. After each of his surgeries, it was a short trip home. After the second surgery he required a round of radiation treatment. Again, it was a real blessing to be close to a hospital that could offer everything he needed, and to be able to rest at home instead of using hotels, etc.

Ammon’s experience made me think of islanders in a similar situation. I had already decided to support a local organization with a health-oriented mission, but this really cemented the Marla Lamb Fund as the obvious choice for me.”

When asked what his next goals were, Jules laughingly begged for a grace period. “I’ll definitely do other long runs, but I have plenty of time to plan them.” He pointed out that runners often excel at marathons in their 20s and 30s, because they are about speed. It takes training to get used to going long and fast for that length of time. But the ultra marathoners are usually in their 30s and 40s, as long as they stay healthy and relatively injury free, as endurance does not fall off nearly as much as speed does with age.

Whatever he chooses to do, I am sure Jules Embry-Pelrine will continue to surpass his former accomplishments and amaze and inspire the rest of us.

To donate:
Marla Ceely Lamb Fund
Drop off checks at the Krav Maga Building: 150 Old South Road
Mail: 57 Prospect St. c/o Palliative and Supportive Care of Nantucket (PASCON),
Donate via the web

Sara Boyce writes regularly for Mahon About Town about the Umami of Nantucket. This article appeared in the 9/26/13 edition.

Mahon About Town’s Food, Wine, and Drink Editor, Sara Boyce has been working in the luxury market since she visited Nantucket for a “three-week” visit after 9/11. As an Art Dealer turned “Lady in Chief” at Grey Lady Wines, she indulges her passions of bringing people together over food, wine, beauty, and travel. Grey Lady Wines specializes in boutique wine recommendations and Private Collections, but Sara feels the best glass of wine is always that shared with friends, ideally before dancing. To share photographs or comments on Nantucket’s Food, Wine, and Social scene, email her at FoodWine@GreyLadyWines.com.

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