There has long been a prevailing wisdom in the mainstream that if you stop eating meat, your sport and athleticism will suffer. For a while vegans have always been regarded as ethical animal-lovers, who display admirable restraint in a world that includes bacon, halloumi and Haagen-Dazs, a meat-free diet had never been associated with sporting prowess or athletic endeavour.
Fast forward to now and many of the world’s top sporting titans have come out as vegan, including the tennis player Venus Williams and boxer David Haye, while others, including the footballer Lionel Messi, follow a vegan diet during competition season. Sportspeople shunning meat and animal products is by no means widespread, but mindsets are slowly shifting.
“He was often putting in 50 miles of running per day, a feat he kept up for almost seven weeks”
The American ultrarunner Scott Jurek has always been ahead of the pack on this. In 2013 he published his autobiography, Eat and Run, which chronicled his experience as a multiple ultramarathon-winning vegan athlete. It was a bestseller, and very much changed the conversation of what athletes should eat to perform at their best.
Jurek turned 40 the same year his book came out, but instead of quietly retreating from the punishing sport of ultrarunning he decided, like a hero in a heist movie, to take on one last challenge. He planned to run the Appalachian Trail (AT) in a record time and then bow out of the sport on a high. A feat he managed to achieve though only just, having faced injury setbacks at the start, and intense physical and mental fatigue towards the end. He’s now released a book about the experience titled North: Finding my way while running the Appalachian Trail. The title a nod to the fact he chose to run the trail from south to north.