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Catching up with Yassine Diboun: Race for the Animals Menís 10K Race Winner

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July 29, 2010

Northwest VEG's inaugural Race for the Animals was a huge success! A whopping 285 folks registered to support and partake in this fun 5K/10K trail run and walk. "I was thrilled to see the turnout," said Race Director, Wendy Gabbe Day. "The weather was great, Forest Park was beautiful, and people of all abilities came out to participate." And thanks to the delicious donations from Dave's Killer Bread, Back to Eden Bakery, Organically Grown Company, Larabar, ProBar, and Whole Foods for refueling the participants.

The men's 10K race was won by Portland's Yassine Diboun in 41:21. Yassine is an ultramarathon runner, a vegan, and an inspiration to us all. Thanks to Yassine for sharing with us some insight into his life.

NWV: What led you to a vegan lifestyle and how long ago?

YD: About two and a half years ago, after watching a documentary by actor/activist/vegan Woody Harrelson called Go Further, a seed was planted in my consciousness about changing my diet and lifestyle. The movie is worth watching in its entirety because, not only is it very eye-opening and informational, it is quite entertaining as well!

From that point on, my wife Erica and I decided to do a vegan experiment--but only lasted about 12 days, until I "caved-in" at a restaurant and ordered a "grass-fed" NY strip steak, while she ordered the jumbo sea scallops. I wrote it off as, "I'm an athlete, and I need the protein, etc.," and I really was feeling a little sluggish and tired in those 12 days. As we fell back into our "old" diet, the thoughts of Woodyís documentary still lingered in our heads, and Erica continued to read more literature about veganism. She would continually read me tidbits of information, and I would kind of push them away, still thinking along the lines of, "that doesn't apply to me...I'm an athlete...I have special needs!" But, like Woody says...a lifetime of eating and thinking is difficult to change right away.

As time went on we continued to stay open-minded to more information and came across a woman named Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (author and vegan chef), who started "Compassionate Cooks." Honestly, this was the nail in the coffin for me. On the podcasts delivered by Colleen, she debunked myth after myth for us and did so in a way that was not "preachy." Something shifted inside of me, and I felt that this was beyond just nutritional needs, but for the sake of other living beings and the world we live in today. That would be the last time I purposely consumed animal flesh or products, save a few very minimal pieces of dairy here and there.

Long story short, I continued to learn and read on and on about the whole world of endurance sports athletes who are successful on a vegan diet. I was intrigued! Of course, the big ones are ultra-marathoner (arguably one of the greatest of all-time) Scott Jurek, and pro Ironman triathlete (and creator of Vega) Brendan Brazier. I have been in contact with both of them, thanked them, and greatly respect them as athletes and their philosophies. Following in the footsteps of these pioneers gave me more confidence, motivation, and lots of tips along the way.

I also lived in the same city (Ithaca, NY) as the world-renowned researcher at Cornell University (and author of The China Study), T. Colin Campbell, and have learned so much in that book. Campbell has joined forces to create a powerful movie that will be airing this summer called Forks Over Knives that I am really looking forward to seeing. There are many more excellent books out there and tons of information on the internet, if you are interested. I really realized how brainwashed I was growing up, largely by the meat and dairy industries, and how they want you to believe that you need cow milk for strong bones and lots of meat for protein. I was awakened to my truth and donít ever see myself going back!

NWV: How has your running and recovery time been affected by a plant-based diet?

YD: Since I have been vegan, I have experienced Ďway more benefits than I ever would have imagined. I have gotten much faster and stronger. My endurance and energy levels have improved immensely, and I recover so amazingly quickly. The energy that was formerly used to balance the pH in my body and to break down meat to extract the amino acids is now being used to repair muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The next day I am ready to rip up the trails again, and I am back to running much quicker following big races than I was in the past. I am much lighter on my feet and rarely experience any type of stomach indigestion or heartburn that I used to experience when eating large amounts of meat and dairy.

Most importantly I feel extremely healthy spiritually knowing that I didnít have to kill or exploit another living being in order for my wants. I get all my nutritional needs from plant-based whole foods, and to make sure of it, I just had a blood test to confirm. My doctor even raised his eyebrows!

NWV: Walk us through a typical day for you. How much training do you do? And what do you eat?

YD: A typical day for me may seem a bit extreme to most people, but I have built up to this over many years. I typically run an average of 15 miles per day six days per week. I tend to stick mostly to the trails of Forest Park, Washington Park, Council Crest, and the Columbia River Gorge. Although I donít count my calories (I have before, for a nutrition class), I consume between 3,000 to 5,000 calories per day, depending on the volume of training.

A lot of my philosophy involves simplicity, variety, and fun. I try to eat many different types of foods that are in their natural state, and I am lucky to have a farmer's market to buy local fruits and vegetables that is walking distance from home every Saturday morning. Then the fun part is finding recipes, putting on the chef hat, and hitting the kitchen!

One of my favorite morning recipes is one for steel cut oats. It cooks while you sleep, and for early morning risers and runners, this is perfect to get you out the door. I will usually have a little before I go, and then some more when I return from my 6-10 mile morning run, coupled with about two or three different types of fruits, and maybe some raw nuts or granola. Lately I have been eating those little Cutie mandarins, grapefruit, apples, medjool dates, oranges, berries, and cantaloupe. Like I said, I always mix it up, depending on what is in season.

Lunch time I usually go for a big salad, again, with lots of variety, different types of greens and vegetables. I sprinkle seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin along with some ground flax seed for Omega 3's. I often accompany salad with some sort of whole grain such as brown rice, millet, or soba noodles (buckwheat). Some sort of lentil or bean is usually in the mix, and if you are a vegan, then you definitely eat your fair share of the nutritionally loaded pseudo grain, quinoa. As of late I have been accompanying my lunch with one of Brendan Brazier's recipes called "Garlic Oregano Yam Oven Fries" from his book, Thrive. They are so tasty and very nutritious! Sometimes I run in the afternoon too, based on my schedule. With high mileage training, you basically have to get in the miles whenever you can...and are eating quite often!

I continue to eat fruits and healthy snacks throughout the day, and very often after a run, I will make an easily digestible "power smoothie" in the Vita-mix. If I had to choose one thing to keep in the whole kitchen, it would be this machine! It's a vegan's best friend and makes life so much easier. I add frozen fruit, greens, carrot, fresh ginger root, a little hemp milk (and hemp protein mix), banana, etc. and drink down a nutrient-dense shake to replenish after a good hard mountain run. I also like to experiment with different ingredients to see what I like. My palate has changed so much over the last two years that often when I crave something sweet, I usually think of some "new" fruit to try. I am grateful to have the Portland-based company Living Harvest help me out with their great products, such as Tempt Hemp Milk and Hemp Protein.

Dinner time is usually much of the same philosophy of trying to mix it up and give the body a nice variety of nutrients. I try to stay away from refined sugar, flour, etc. but I am not perfect and I donít attempt to be. Running at night is also a common theme during high mileage weeks, so double running days are common. Another thing I love about being vegan is that you never have to wait too long to go run, because your body is not having to work so hard to break down, for example, meat. I remember when I was eating a lot of meat, I would have to wait sometimes like three hours before I went running after a meal. I am not a person that relies heavily on faux meats, etc. or tofu. I do, however, like tempeh and other fermented foods, but I feel that I get all the protein I need and more from the whole foods that I eat and the supplemental "power smoothies."

The weekends are usually huge days for me in terms of running and eating, and often times I devour everything in sight. I usually head to the Columbia River Gorge or Mt. Hood National Forest one of the two weekend days for some good climbing in a long run, and then the other day I stick close to home but run another long run. These back to back long run days are crucial for successful ultra marathon training.

Lately I have been reading a lot about leaning towards mostly a raw diet, but not sure because I really like to eat whole grain pastas, couscous, wild and brown rice, lentils, etc. But then again I never thought that I would be able to eat foods that didn't involve dairy and meat, so we'll see!

NWV: What is the longest or most grueling race you have participated in?

YD: I would say that the longest and most grueling race that I have participated in was just last month (June 18, 2010) at the Bighorn 100. It is a well known 100-mile mountain ultra marathon race that meanders up, down, and all around the Bighorn Mountains about 70 miles east of Yellowstone National Park in beautiful Wyoming. The course boasts a total of 18,000 feet of climbing and treacherous trails that really take a toll on your body. It is probably one of the most picturesque places that I have seen up to this date. About 30 miles into the race, I contemplated dropping out because my feet were so "chewed up" from the rugged terrain. I was able to hold it together and finished the race in 4th place with a time of 20 hours and 43 minutes. It was one of the most difficult things I have done, but also one of the most rewarding, satisfying feelings to experience crossing that finish line the following day!

NWV: What do you think is the biggest challenge for athletes to adopt a plant-based diet?

YD: I think the biggest challenges for athletes are societal ones. It is difficult to think outside of the box and to be patient as your body adapts. Many athletes think that they need these super high protein diets. In fact, probably one of the most common questions that I receive is, "How do you get your protein?" Many do not even know how much protein they need in a given day, and many people donít realize that protein is contained in many foods other than animal flesh. Society has ingrained a certain image of what we need nutritionally that is largely influenced by the meat and dairy industries. The reason I say to be patient is because I have known many people that try the vegan diet for a week or two (myself included early on) and then give up and say that they feel tired and sluggish and fall back to their "meat and potatoes diet." I would say to give it more like a month or two.

I will close with something that I love, that Scott Jurek told me about, promoting being vegan. He said that he tries to use "the soft sell approach to make people more intrigued...and much like running an have to show that anyone can do it!"

NWV: What does the future hold for you?

YD: I hope to be still competing at a high level in ultra marathons and reaping the many rewards of trail running in beautiful parts of the world. I hope to finish my Masterís Degree in Special Education/Physical Education and start teaching, and most importantly, focus on raising our daughter who will be arriving some time in August or September of 2010.

NWV: Anything else you'd like to people to know about you?

YD: I have a blog at where I document a lot of my races and adventures. I also do personal coaching for running of all distances for a nominal fee and would love to help you out if you are interested. Shoot me an email if you have any questions or comments...Iíd love to hear from you!

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