Looking for a bit of Monday Motivation…? Last month my friend and vegan athlete Lorna Downes, took on 60km or New Zealand’s best bush trails to complete in the Tarawera Ultramarathon.  With a boiled potato and some vegan sports bars in her backpack Lorna conquered the trails and finished strongly. She is an absolute inspiration to me and I am sure you will really enjoy reading this interview.

(Surprisingly to many, a vegan diet, is common among ultra athletes. For info on some of the world’s best plant powered athletes check out Brendan Brazier or Scott Jurek. A plant based diet offers far quicker recovery times for athletes due to their bodies maintaining much better levels of alkalinity.)

What is the name of the race you recently completed in NZ and what was the distance?

I ran the Tarawera Ultramarathon in Rotorua, NZ. There were three different distances (60k, 89k and 100k). I ran the ‘short’ course 60km in 10 hours 40 mins.

Why and when did you decide to train for an Ultra-marathon?

In primary school I first heard about ultra marathon running because the mother of one of my fellow students was Sandy Barwick, a legendary NZ ultramarathon record holder. I was fascinated that a woman could beat all the men in a running race! I NEVER thought I’d be able to run 6k, let alone 60k. It wasn’t till I took up running in 2004 and met a lot of people who ran ultra-distance events that I started to think I’d like to run an ultra. I ran the Six Foot Track Marathon in 2010 and at 45km this was my first ultra (any running race over 42.195km is technically an ultra). I NEVER thought I’d run anything longer but secretly dreamed of running 100k. This year I chose Tarawera 60km as my target event because it is off-road, it’s in NZ (where I’m originally from), there’s no qualifying times, and it’s got a great reputation for beautiful scenery and fantastic support. It’s also a step closer to my goal of running in a 100km event.

Can you describe your training regime? What distances were you running in the lead up and what other x-training do you do?

David Criniti, a very experienced and accomplished Australian marathon and ultra marathon runner, writes my program for me and I just do what he says… mostly! I run 5 days per week; 1 short easy pace run, 1 longer faster run (tempo run), 1 interval or hill sessions with a group called Freespirit Fitness Run Club and finally, on the weekends I do 2 long, slow runs, mostly on bush trails around Sydney where I live.

In terms of cross training, I do Pilates and Yoga to improve my core stability and flexibility, and a bit of fast bush-walking (particularly hills or stairs) to improve my strength on hills. I was doing Crossfit style training which improved my strength and particularly my mental toughness but chose to stop doing this in the lead up to the race as my body was getting a bit over-trained!

How would you describe your diet in general? How did your diet change as your training “amped” up?

I’ve been vegetarian since I was 16 and vegan since 2007. I try not to be a ‘junk food vegan’! My diet didn’t change remarkably. My appetite increased so the amount of food I ate increased also. I eat a lot of vegetables and fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds, quinoa and buckwheat. I’m a sushi addict and have veggie filled nori rolls several times a week! Unfortunately I have a sweet tooth and love dark chocolate otherwise I’m sure I’d have the figure of a supermodel!

Can you share with us what a typical day’s meals are made up of on a training day?

Breakfast is usually a green smoothie or ‘bircher muesli’ made from rolled oats, dried fruit, seeds and nuts soaked overnight in fruit juice topped with fresh fruit.

Lunch is most often a massive salad (and I mean MASSIVE) with whatever leafy greens I have, avocado, seeds, grated raw veggies (like beetroot, carrot, cucumber) and char grilled veggies (I cook them in the sandwich press at work while I prepare the rest of my salad veggies) and tinned legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans). I usually dress the salad with balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice or a bit of hummus.

Dinner is often a veggie stir fry or steamed veggies. I eat out a lot and there are so many great vegetarian restaurants in Sydney. I love Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese food

What kept you motivated through your training?

My goal, my program, the accountability of knowing that if I didn’t do a session Dave would see and I’d have to explain why I didn’t do it! Running with friends is a big motivation for me. Many of my friends are runners and if I want to see them it’s usually on a run or at a race! Picking shorter races leading up to the event to run as a measure of my improvement and so I could talk with other runners after the race. People asked “how’s the training for Tarawera going?” so that kept me focused and accountable. It’s so helpful to have people to mentor you and for healthy peer pressure!!

Why do you choose to be plant powered? And how has this decision changed your life?

I chose to be plant powered as a small child as soon as I found out where meat came from. I was horrified when I was told that the cute cuddly lambs were the same lambs we ate. My parents said that while I was living with them I’d have to eat meat but as soon as I got a job and was paying for my own food I became vegetarian.

Then when I moved to Sydney, I started to learn about Veganism from a colleague who was vegan and a number of running friends who were vegan. I realised that everything I’d thought about vegans was wrong! They weren’t weirdos or anaemic or sandal wearing weaklings! They were intelligent, compassionate, strong, healthy and informed. I read The Ethics of What We Eat by Singer and Mason and finally I couldn’t justify eating eggs, dairy, honey or sea creatures (I’d been a fish and chipocrate, occasionally eating fish ‘for my health’). I realised that I did not need to eat animal products and I couldn’t stomach the environmental degradation, the cruelty or the cost to the most vulnerable people in this world who were truly paying the price for Westerners dietary choices.

At this point I still thought I might be sacrificing my health but it was for the greater good. Then I met Robyn Chuter, a vegan Naturopath who opened my eyes to the health benefits of a plant-based diet. I realised that not only was eating animal products dangerous for our planet and harmful to animals, it is harmful to humans as well. So now I say I’m a vegan for all reasons!

Can you share one of your favourite plant power recipes?

I used to love macaroni cheese as a kid… so my favourite recipe is my healthy vegan version…it’s my favourite comfort food! I’ve even got one of my meat-eating colleagues onto this and she makes it almost once a week! It’s super quick which is great as I don’t have much time between work, training and catching up with friends.

Steamed veggies with 'cheese' sauce
(I call it savory sauce when making it for cheese eaters)
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  1. steamed veggies
  2. 1 heaped Tbs tahini (unhulled is better for this)
  3. 1 Tbs white miso paste
  4. water to achieve the desired "cheese sauce" consistency
  5. small handful of nutritional yeast
  1. Steam whatever veggies you have.
  2. The more different colours the better. Cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, squash, yams, carrots, parsnips, swede, kale, mushrooms... whatever!
  3. Put the firmest veggies on the bottom of the steamer and the more tender veggies on top.
  4. Leafy greens go on the very top of the pile.
  5. I like my veggies chunky and only just cooked so they are still colourful and firm.
  6. While the veggies are steaming, whisk together the tahini, miso and water, until smooth then heat in a saucepan.
  7. Once smooth add a small handful of nutritional yeast and whisk again. It will thicken further.
  8. Drain the steamed veggies and put in bowls topped with a big dollop of 'cheese' sauce. The water on the steamed veggies will thin the sauce down.
  9. So quick and easy and really healthy!
  1. If you are in a hurry you could use chunky frozen veggies.
Veggies & Me https://www.veggiesandme.com/