Vlad Ixel Wins Ultra-marathons Fueled on a Vegan Diet
The Australian athlete runs more than 15 major races a year and has set multiple records since 2013—without consuming meat.
What exactly is an “ultra-marathon trail runner?” Marathons are 42km in distance and ultra-marathons are anything beyond that. I’ve run many 50km, 100km and 150km races. My biggest achievement to date was a 250km, self-supported ultra-marathon, meaning you carry all your stuff with you. It went on for five days across the Atacama Desert, where temperatures went as high as 40 degrees in the day and as low as zero degrees at night.
How did you get into marathon running? I used to drink and smoke a lot. I was addicted to caffeine and I basically replaced water with Red Bull. When I was about to turn 25, I decided to make the second quarter of my life healthier—so I changed. I decided to challenge myself. I signed up for two marathons and without training, I ran them both. It felt good to achieve something new. So I went on Google and searched for the hottest running race in the world, and that’s when I signed up for the 250km ultra-marathon.
Why do it in Hong Kong? Trail running is booming in Hong Kong. You can run a hundred races a year, probably even more. It’s the place you want to be if you’re a trail runner. The Hong Kong Trail is my favorite: It’s quite runnable and it’s covered, which is very nice in summer. I train twice a day, seven days a week, and join races weekly. I’m determined not to get sucked into the nine-to-six lifestyle. My goal isn’t to get rich. Here, I can coach in the morning and be on the trail in an hour. That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. Back in Australia, I had to drive to get to a trail. Here I live in Sheung Wan, and after hitting the trail 2km away from town, I don’t see anyone for hours.
Do you bring music along on your runs? When I’m on the trail, surrounded by nature, I don’t listen to music. I don’t need it. I don’t think about anything. I concentrate on my breathing. I run a lot of 100km races by myself and it allows me to zone out and meditate.
How do you get enough protein as a vegan athlete? Protein is overrated. There is protein in everything. Look at gorillas and rhinos—they’re vegetarian, but they’re pretty strong. I get my protein from beans, greens and chia seeds. I’m still running seven days a week, training four to five hours a day, racing every week, so something’s working. I used to be a huge meat eater. My friends and I were constantly on the search for proteins to bulk up. I would eat 1kg steaks in a sitting, but it didn’t feel good. When I was preparing for the ultra-marathon, I researched for ways to quick muscle recovery and saw that many people suggested going on a plant-based diet. I didn’t have anything to lose, so I had a huge steak on Christmas Eve and became vegan overnight.
Ever get tempted to stray? Going vegan was easy because I saw amazing results. I was sleeping better, recovering quicker, running faster. With the amount of training I do, I eat 5,000 to 6,000 calories every day, which means every day can be cheat day. There’s a lot of unhealthy vegan stuff, like vegan ice cream and deep fried stuff, but I try to eat healthy—although usually after a race, I don’t mind the quality of the food I’m putting into my body. It’s just easier to get energy by indulging in calorie-dense food like tortilla chips and dark chocolate.
What health advice would you give urban dwellers? Whether or not you’re an athlete, get enough sleep. I sleep eight to nine hours every night. How well you perform during the day, how sharp and productive you are, shows the amount of rest you’ve invested in your body. People I coach have demanding jobs, but they still have their running goals. It’s easy not to get enough sleep, but when you push your body while not feeling your best, injuries happen.
What’s the most annoying misconception about vegans? People think vegans are weird, hippie-looking people. I’m just a normal person.