Running on plants

Mark Johnson has never felt better. I met the 36-year-old ultrarunner about a year ago at a trail race in Canmore. I was skimming the race results when I noticed Mark admiring the performance-enhancing kokopelli tattoo on my right calf. We got to talking and I learned he had just moved to Red Deer from Edmonton for a job.

  • Jan. 25, 2016 12:50 p.m.

Mark Johnson has never felt better.

I met the 36-year-old ultrarunner about a year ago at a trail race in Canmore. I was skimming the race results when I noticed Mark admiring the performance-enhancing kokopelli tattoo on my right calf.

We got to talking and I learned he had just moved to Red Deer from Edmonton for a job.

Later on, I discovered we had much more in common than just mountains and dirt trails.

Mark runs on plants.

He adopted a vegan lifestyle about four years ago after grappling with some health issues.

Watching Forks Over Knives, a film on the benefits of switching to a plant-based diet from a meat-based diet, solidified his decision to make the life-changing move.

In case you were wondering, a vegan is a vegetarian who takes the herbivore diet to another level. A vegan does not consume animal byproducts such as eggs and dairy and eliminates products derived from animals like certain soaps or leather.

Many make the switch for ethical reasons and a political stance against the mistreatment and senseless killing of animals. Mark said his diet was influenced by the health benefits and the environmental impact.

No pun intended, he went “cold turkey” on meat consumption. Cutting out the meat got easier and easier everyday.

Friends and family including his dietitian stepmother, were very supportive despite the random, “Do you eat chicken or fish?” questions.

Mark said for every one animal he cut out of his diet, he replaced it with five foods such as squash, green peas, tempeh, seitan and quinoa.

Feeling great, Mark resumed running after several years away from the sport.

He had missed the freedom of the trail and the energy that fed his body and soul.

Once again hooked, Mark delved into ultrarunning — running distances longer than 42.2 km or a marathon.

And he got pretty good at it too.

Mark came in second in his first Iron Horse Ultra 100 in St. Paul in 2014 and snagged first place the following year. He came in ninth at the 2015 Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache — a 125-km mountain race — this year.

Not bad for a stereotypical weak vegan.

A vegan diet definitely made the jump to ultrarunning much easier, he said.

On the long runs Mark will pack gels, energy bars, bananas, hummus and bean burritos.

Recovery is better and there’s more energy after a long day at work. He finds protein in lentils, chickpeas, nuts, beans and vegetables.

“You really know your diet,” he said. “You know what works for your body pretty quickly.”

But Mark still brings his own fuel to the races because you never know what is on the menu at the aid stations.

“You are prepared for surprises,” he said. “Every race is different but I haven’t seen a shift at the aid stations. Some races are really excited about the local jerky supplier or something.”

But despite a little extra time reading labels and in the kitchen, a vegan diet is not as challenging as most people tend to believe. Today more and more grocery stores are beginning to carry vegan or vegetarian products.

Mark said it has no doubt helped with his running and his overall health.

“It’s way easier and more rewarding than what I ever imagined,” he said. “I would never go back.”

Next up in #RWR I talk to my colleague Paul Cowley about his love of streaking.

Send your column ideas, photos and stories to crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com. Find Running with Rhyno on Facebook and @CrystalRhyno on Twitter.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

Separate lightning strikes hit two vehicles near Ponoka

No one injured in lightning strikes on Thursday morning

Government changes working conditions to meet wildfire observers’ needs

Wildfire observers opposed mandatory days off with no pay

More RCMP resources recommended for Red Deer’s downtown and other priorities

City council to consider where to designate three additional officers

Red Deer rents among the lowest in Canada

One-bedroom unit averages $1,056 per month

Rain doesn’t scare visitors away from Westerner Days

Attendance steady at Red Deer fair and exhibition

Fashion Fridays: 5 casual summer dress styles

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

American father, two sons among passengers on plane in fatal Labrador crash

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — An American father and his two sons vacationing… Continue reading

Apollo 11 astronauts reunite on 50th anniversary of moonshot

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins… Continue reading

Fast-growing web of doorbell cams raises privacy fears

The woodsy community of Wolcott, Connecticut, doesn’t see a lot of crime.… Continue reading

Statistics Canada reports retail sales fell 0.1 per cent in May to $51.5B

OTTAWA — Canadian retail sales fell for the first time in four… Continue reading

Bank of Canada lowers qualifying rate used in mortgage stress tests

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada has lowered the rate used by… Continue reading

Stop CBSA policy requiring bulletproof vests in immigrant detention: advocates

OTTAWA — A group of doctors, lawyers, legal scholars and human-rights organizations… Continue reading

Ontario attorney general invokes PM in spat over refugee legal aid

OTTAWA — Ontario’s attorney general is taking his fight for more federal… Continue reading

Judge finds Dennis Oland not guilty of murder in multi-millionaire father’s death

SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Dennis Oland was cheered and applauded by supporters… Continue reading

Most Read