Alister Gardner, vegan trail runner
Alister Gardner is a trail and mountain runner with some experience at marathon level. He has represented Canada at Mountain Running, taking part in a successful team.
Alister cites 2012 as a breakthrough year, although in 2011 he secured a victory in a 50 mile event. As 2012 unfolded he competed at the CCC (Courmayeur Champex Chamonix), a 100km run at the Ultra Trail at Mont Blanc, a race that faces running at altitude and against difficult weather conditions, attracting an international field. Alister’s 17th place showed evidence that he was a world class runner.
Four weeks later he placed 9th at the United Race of Champions 100k, West Virginia, and in December he not only won Hellgate 100km, but set a course record. In June 2012 he ran his first marathon, and won it.
In 2013 he was picked for the Canadian Mountain Running team and represented his nation in the NACAC Mountain Running Championships, where Canada finished 2nd.
Until 2010 Alister ate a meat and dairy based diet, although now he is vegan. The transition was part of a process of learning about the treatment of farm animals.
“I had been reading a series of articles from the Guardian about the hidden truth of modern farming” Alister told us. “I was horrified to realise 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 neighbours farms and organic cheese (assuming it was more humane) but after 2 years I knew I was kidding myself and so stopped completely and have never looked back.”
What does he eat?
Like many endurance athletes, Alister has a high carbohydrate intake. He also eats a lot of fresh fruit, and nuts. “Overall though, I have a very varied diet. My favourite meal is either my homemade black bean, tofu and sweet potato burrito (with a ton of guacamole) or veggy curry with as many vegan trimmings as possible.”
Among trail runners there is commonly a respect for nature, which has contributed to some generally positive responses from within the sport to discovering Alister’s veganism.
“Most people I train with see it as inspiring, I think it goes with the feeling for nature associated with trail running. My sports therapist does raise the topic of protein intake with me a lot, but she is very supportive and just wants to be sure I am getting enough with all the training I do. Most negativity comes from non athletes and people who are not well educated on the subject of diet, it is worrying to see how much misinformation is out there.”
Alister also hopes his example inspires others. In particular a highly rated trail runner over shorter distances has recently given up meat after discussions with Alister.
Now recognised as a runner of interest nationally and internationally, Alister is continuing to compete at the toughest events. He had to withdraw from the 2014 Ultra Trail at Mont Blanc due to injury. In 2015 he was back to take on the 169km race which has an amazing 10,000 metres of height gain. This time Alister beat the mountain and finished in just under 30 hours.
Also in 2015 he had a win at 30km and half marathon distances among other results.
He also takes great pleasure in coaching, and finds it enormously rewarding to see his runners taking on new challenges and succeeding.
Like many vegan athletes, Alister is enthusiastic about the changes veganism has brought to him and wants more people to try it.
“Going vegan has put me in tune with my body. 5 or 10 years ago I would have never considered becoming vegan or even vegetarian. Today, I am sad to think meat eating still exists.
"For anyone considering trying a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian diet then I suggest you go for it; go online and you will find plenty of resources and numerous recipes. It doesn't need to be an instant change but to try one new recipe each week is a start. It won’t take long to start noticing the difference. The more stuff you cook yourself from scratch the better."
No Meat Athlete is a great running resource
Full disclosure: 50% of any book you buy on there goes to support this website but there's also a ton of free resources there