Many U.S. vegans are in awe of Scott Jurek’s and Rich Roll’s accomplishments in the field of extreme adventure running. The Positive Animal would like to introduce you to another jaw-dropping fit vegan athlete, made in Spain. Meet Alberto Pelaez, 39 years old, who recently lived the most physically demanding month of his life. Firefighter by profession and cruelty-fighter in his free time, this animal activist’s weapons of choice are usually ultramarathons and mountain ultra trail races. But to raise money for our voiceless animal friends, Alberto, with the help of a few friends, got on his bike in early August and threw himself heart and soul into a Trans-Pyrenees challenge, wearing his trademark shirt: “No como animales [I don’t eat animals]. Go vegan.”
Pedro Jesús Lopez-Toribio, vegan ultra-distance cyclist, kept Alberto company for about 385 km [239 miles], but had to stop due to hypothermia. Pedro had previously taken part in the Alpenbrevet Platinum, the toughest road cycling challenge in Switzerland—276 kilometers [171 miles] with a 7,000-meter [23,000-foot] cumulative elevation. Vegan ultrarunner friend, Fran Godoy, rode along Alberto through four mountain passes.
Following cycling tradition, Alberto left Perpignan, France (8:30 am, Saturday, August 3, 2015), carrying a bottle filled with Mediterranean sea water, which he emptied in the Atlantic upon arrival (4:30 am, Monday, August 5, 2015), before completing the ritual by drinking from an old fountain in the Spanish town of San Juan de Luz. We should probably mention that the filling was separated from the emptying by a mere 44 hours of biking through 658 kilometers [409 miles] of mountainous terrain (17 passes) with a 15,000-meter [49,213-feet] cumulative elevation gain, the riders stopping only for a few very short bio and food breaks.
When asked about on-the-road nutrition, Alberto indicates that they opted for a variety of easily digestible foods with a heavy carb load—bananas, nectarines and peaches, in addition to nuts and energy bars. During pit stops, they ate quinoa with vegetables, rice with seitan, potato salad and, at night or when it got cold, miso soup and millet soup with veggies and tofu. For sweet snacks: rice pudding and chocolate filled crepes. “We wanted a high energetic intake, while enjoying something tasty that didn’t bother our stomachs. The week before such a challenge, I don’t really change my diet, which is consistently high in carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. However, I definitely lighten up on the training for a few days, to keep my glycogen reserves full.”
This grueling challenge was to raise funds for animal shelters and to bring attention to the fact that we don’t need to eat meat to be in exceptional shape. Alberto says he couldn’t have done it without his friends and the moral and technical support of an entire team that followed him by van to ensure his safety.
I asked him to describe the feeling of doing something so intense with so much support. “At first, you’re not fully conscious of all the people who are keeping track of the challenge, it’s when you reach the finish line that you become aware of it, and it’s a shock—even though the team in the van gave us hints of the substantial following we were getting on social networks. Our team was crucial. There was Irina who built my blog, my mother, my friends Fran, Gonzalo and Marcos, supporting Pedro Jesús and myself at all times with food, hydration and clothes, but also guiding us. That’s a tough job, almost two days without sleep.”
In terms of donations, the team felt total satisfaction and gratitude, as they managed to get sponsored for all the miles cycled, earning about €4,000 to split among four Spanish animal sanctuaries.
After four days of rest, Alberto joined his friend Manuel Diez-Rabago Gomez-Cuetara to run the Picos mountains trail in three stages. This range of mountains is located about 12 miles inland from the northern coast of Spain. They ran 121 km [75 miles] in 20 hours (without counting the stops) at a rate of 6.5 hours per day. Alberto says it’s the wildest mountain run he’s ever done, suffering uphill and downhill following Manuel’s tough pace. The second stage of the Picos trail was one of the toughest days he can remember because of the freezing cold and getting lost several times in the Western Massif due to dense fog. The trail runner believes the Picos have a knack for humbling anyone, yet he says that nothing could tarnish the beauty of the peaks and he felt happier there than during any other challenge. The insatiable mile eater wants to do it again: “Maybe next year we’ll do it in one go,” he told us half-jokingly.
That would be plenty for most athletes, but there was no time to sit still: the fireman was on fire. Nineteen days later, on Friday, August 28, 2015, Alberto and Fran Godoy ran the 101 km [63 miles] CCC (Courmayeur, Champex, Chamonix), one of several races of the Ultra-trail Mont-Blanc (UTMB), an event open only to accomplished competitors from around the world. It is a mountain race deep into the wilderness, with numerous high altitude passes (>2,500 m [>8,200 feet]) and dark and windy conditions at night. Runners started at 9:00 am in Courmayeur, Italy, with Chamonix, France, as their destination. Alberto arrived in 10th position out of 1900, at 13:13:19 hours, and therefore got to stand on the podium, wearing his “No como animales” t-shirt for the picture celebrating the 10 best runners. Fran made it at an excellent 40th position! Seems that these guys are getting enough protein.
Anecdotally, two days before the CCC, while staying in Chamonix Alberto ran into Scott Jurek. Vegan champions hug!
On the personal side, Alberto’s girlfriend, Sahar, is his inspiration. She’s also a very dedicated animal rights activist and loves sports, but as a hobby. During the champ’s competitions, she’s often present at the aid stations and cheering him on.
Curious to find out if there were positive signs in Spain in terms of animal rights and veganism, I asked Alberto about his perspective. He admitted that progress was sometimes slow, which can be discouraging, but that we should not underestimate the influence we have on our environment. He told me, for instance, that the social movement against bullfighting was getting increasingly larger, with many protests and campaigns being organized and many cities declaring themselves anti-bullfighting, prohibiting this activity and removing public subsidies for it. Bullfighting is banned in Barcelona and the Canary Islands. As far as veganism is concerned, he says he’s witnessed significant progress, as it’s becoming easier to find vegan food in supermarkets and more vegan restaurants are opening every day. “Progress can be slow, but I think it will be permanent.”
As to what new projects are on the horizon for the devourer of miles, he says he’ll try to improve his current time for the Trans-Pyrenees bike challenge. “This year, we just got familiar with the terrain, and we saw plenty of areas where we could improve.” In addition, he plans on taking part in two big races during the ultra-trail season: the Transgrancanaria in Las Palmas (Canary Islands, Spain, March 2016) and the Lavaredo Ultra trail in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy (June 2016). We’ll make sure to keep our readers updated about Alberto’s participation in those events.
After our interview, Alberto found the time to create the Lanzarote Vegano Asociación, a vegan association aiming to help animals, promote a lifestyle respectful of animals and organize informative events. They have many activities planned: information tables, lectures, projection of films, cooking classes, tours, athletic activities, such as trekking in Lanzarote… We wish them great success.
Alberto’s partial list of accomplishments:
- 3-time winner of the Ultramaraton Lanzarote, 86 km [53.5 miles] (2012, 2013, 2014)
- 2-time winner of Ultramaraton Gomera Paradise, 58 km [36 miles] (2013, 2014)
- Winner of the Ultramaraton 10,000 del Soplao, 127 km [79 miles] (2012)
- Winner of the Tilenux estreme, 105 km [65 miles] (2012)
- Winner of the Ultra Tinajo x Race, 56 km [34.8 miles] (2013)
- Winner of the Ultra Playa Honda, 52 km [32.3 miles] (2012)
- 20 victories in mountain races.