A vegan endurance runner recently ran his first marathon - and scooped an impressive second place.
Alister Gardner is best known for his long distance running. In 2018, he ran the 160km Bromont Ultra, with an enormous 600 meters of height gain, smashing the course record. He has also represented Canada at mountain running.
The Ottawa marathon posed very different challenges, offering the intensity of the standard 26.2 miles (42 km) distance while attracting a strong field of elite runners. As one of two IAAF Gold Label marathons in Canada, placing high in the race is an objective for the best of the nation’s runners.
It also means that Gardner had to change his training. "I worked a lot on my speed this winter and enjoyed a few shorter distance road races as I built up to the marathon," he told Great Vegan Athletes.
"It is all about precisely timing intervals and being able to sustain a consistent pace, whereas trail running has all the ups and downs of the mountain which mean it is more about adapting to the moment. It was fun to focus on a consistent pace, but the long runs are nowhere near as fun as a run up the mountain."
Gardner's training paid off as he finished as second Canadian in 2:31:51. The time was also a new personal best, despite sub-optimal conditions. This leaves him with an official #16 ranking nationally in marathon.
Club intervals in all conditions this Spring were a crucial part of the preparation, although nutrition was crucial. Gardner has been vegan since 2012.
"I had been reading a series of articles from the Guardian about the hidden truth of modern farming," he said. "I was horrified to realize I was being a part of that by buying meat products so I told my wife we had to source only local, 'free range' meat produce.
"Then I read the final article about the abattoir and it stopped me dead – I had never considered it – so when I got home I said that was it, no more meat. It all happened in a week. I tried to source local eggs from neighbors farms and organic cheese (assuming it was more humane) but after two years I knew I was kidding myself and so stopped completely and have never looked back."
When it came to his training nutrition, he said: "I did my best to eat mostly real food, not too much refined stuff. Once in a while I would treat myself to a Beyond burger and bowl of vegan ice-cream, but often it was big bowls of pasta (always brown – more protein) with veggies or homemade burritos.
"During the race, I mostly used the FRUIT3 blackcurrant bar by xact nutrition, plus fluids at every water station. It got quite hot that day compared to recent weeks and that was tough."
He also benefits from two of the most fun training partners, his two rescue dogs Chester and Gaston. The three often run together in the mountains, and this is an integral part of Gardner's program.
"We train together almost every day." he says. "We would try to get a few kilometers in together in the morning, and then I would go do a more concentrated training in the evening."