Sacks and sacks of fruit, fresh and dried. Boxes of energy bars from GoMacro and Nature’s Bakery. Lots of dehydrated vegan camping meals from Maine’s Good To Go. A giant tub of Snyders pretzels. All loaded into a jogging stroller.
This represents most of what endurance athlete Brendan Walsh ate while recently running the 312 miles from Lubec to Kittery in 10 days, 4 hours and 18 minutes to raise $3,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. After walking nearly 30 miles each day, he pitched his tent near the road at dusk, pulled out a camp stove, and cooked dinner. The sooner he could go to sleep the better since he got up at dawn to do it all over again.
Along the way, the Portland resident met all sorts of interesting people, experienced the stunning beauty of Maine, and reflected on the difficulties of living with the chronic disease MS while pushing his jogging stroller laden with food and equipment up one of the many hills across the United States pushed up path 1.
On the first day of what he called the Rocky Coast Run, he ran through a lot of wilderness, including along the 12,334-acre Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land, which runs parallel to US Route 191 in Cutler. The next day he saw more people and buildings and soon reached Machias, where he replenished his supplies with “hash browns and avocado toast and oats” with a stop at Hannaford for more fruit and then at the local Dunkin for a “second breakfast” Milk Cold brew lattes in a large explosion bottle.”
I learned all of this when I called Walsh “somewhere near Columbia Falls” just before beginning his trip.
Walsh is a vegan and an endurance athlete. In 2019 he set the Guinness World Record for Fastest crossing of America by bicycle (north to south) as he traveled the 2,288 miles from Madawaska to Key West, Florida, in 11 days, 9 hours, and 33 minutes. The ride raised more than $6,000 for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He wanted to raise the money to $10,000, then pedaled across Cape Cod and managed to meet his fundraising goal. Last summer he self-published an account of his Guinness World Record ride entitled For Those Who Can’t: The Story of the First US North-South Bicycle Record.
His sporting excellence began in 2015 after “a really bad motorcycle accident”.
“It was the first time I was forced to quit,” Walsh said. “I had this idea in my head: ‘You have to ride your bike across the country.'”
Then one day in 2017, without ever taking a single overnight bike ride, he packed all his gear onto his bike, including a French press and a guitar, and set off from Boston to Seattle, a distance of 4,000 miles. He did it in 60 days, raising funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in the process.
Since then he has learned to travel lighter (neither the French press nor the guitar made it to the end) and he has discovered the wide world of long-distance athletics.
In 2018, Walsh, who was a vegetarian in high school, became a vegan. The move was motivated in part by an encounter he had towards the end of his cross-country trek, when he had the opportunity to bottle-feed a sick, emaciated deer, a “super powerful experience. At the same time, he got to know athletes who use a plant-based diet to increase performance and recovery. Walsh said his renewed compassion for animals combined with the health benefits of eating plants has put him in a “positive feedback loop” regarding a vegan diet.
Walsh and I spoke again as he ran through Brunswick. He told me he’d enjoyed Subway’s vegan veggie subways, with an unusual request. “Sometimes I ask her to crush a bag of chips on it so I can eat while I move,” he told me. “I’m always happy to see their reactions.”
For the most part, though, Walsh said he “based all of my food decisions on buying as much fruit as possible each day because I love fruit and it keeps you going.”
Other treats that helped keep him nourished included almond milk chocolate pudding, vegan pop tarts and blueberry bagels from Dave’s Killer Bread. Dinner was usually a good take away meal. “The good-to-go dinners are pretty decent because they’re all organic and real food,” Walsh said.
Walsh began each day taking vegan supplements from his sponsor, Clean Machine, geared toward high-performance athletes. After running and setting up camp, he performed his nightly recovery routine while listening to NPR on a tiny portable radio. He used a Maine-made RecoveryCBD topical ointment on his muscles, took a dose of CBD tincture, and massaged his muscles with rollerballs. He capped off his routine with a few yoga poses.
“We remain grateful for his support and love how he uses his passion for endurance sports activities to raise awareness and funds to support those affected by MS,” said Gena Hyde, Associate Vice President for Communications at the National MS Society .
Noting that the mother of a friend with MS had recently died, Walsh said he was doing the walk to support society “because MS affects 2.1 million people worldwide every year.”
In recent years, some studies have suggested that the condition could be improved or possibly even reversed by eating a plant-based diet, among other things one in the journal Science Advances which looked at isoflavones, microbiomes and legumes. Other studies have found correlations between high meat consumption and saturated fat intake and MS; However, there has not been a large-scale nutritional study to confirm these results. as dr Saray Stancic, who gave the keynote address at the Maine Nutrition Council Annual Meeting in 2017, spoke about how she reversed her own MS through a vegan diet.
“Every adventure I do I do for a reason, because people often ask me, ‘How do you do these things?’ or ‘Why are you doing these things?’” Walsh said. “I have a feeling if you don’t have a good why, you really won’t.”
Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer based in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]
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