Janette and Alan's Odyssey


Ok, so you've got your 6 month marathon training all planned out. Eyes set on building up to race day, the long runs and before you know it, it's the night before. You can't sleep, up at 5AM, race day crowds and excitement, then of course, miles 21-25 an absolute eternity. Not to mention, the magical next week of soreness ahead.
Then you have those New Year's resolutions. You hit the ground like a bull New Years Day, then 2 weeks later, the inspiration slowly fades behind the layers of distraction, and well, by February, most fully reverted, with New Years a distant memory. Suffice to say, a marathon is a challenge to most and well, time can seem quite slow when out there challenging yourself in some way.
A good background to begin this story, for between 2013-2014, Janette Murray-Wakelin and Alan Murray ran a marathon each day, for 366 days, making a full circle around Australia, running ~10,000 miles and setting a new world record. You may be expecting some grunting ex-marines with stiff shoulders and that intense grimace as though to say, "I am quite uncomfortable". But let me introduce you to Janette and Alan.
Janette (68) and Alan (72) met and married almost 50 years ago in New Zealand. They gave birth to two children and then set off to the sea, sailing around the South Pacific for 8 years. Surely can't do their odyssey justice in just a few words, suffice to say, the family took a different route than most, finding them living on a canal boat in Europe, living in a converted bus between Holland and Portugal and eventually moving to Vancouver while their kid's attended University. 
Many years later, at 63 and 67, kids all grown up and happy grandparents of 5, they found themselves out on the road again, this time, on foot. Running 1 marathon a day, everyday for 366 days while challenging themselves to the Australian outback. Why in God's name would someone do such a thing? It might be helpful to back up a bit more... 
In 2001, just months after running 50 marathons in 50 days for Janette's 50th birthday, she found a cancerous lump on her breast. Doctor's prognosis, after surgery: "6 months to live, with chemo and treatment as the cancer has spread to the chest wall and lymph nodes". Quite the shock: "Well, if I have 6 months to live anyway, chemo and radiation therapy is no way to spend it. Let's see what else we can do." A quite determined Janette, instead took to juicing (42 day juice fast), even more running/exercise, a low-fat/raw vegan diet and the help of a naturopathic doctor, receiving intravenous vitamin dosages. 6 months later, she was cancer free.
Janette wasn't totally new to the plant-based lifestyle. Finding it almost impossible to chew meat as a child, she grew up mostly vegetarian out of necessity, trading her meat for her brothers veggies. In the late 90's she decided to go vegan as she was getting into running, also helping Alan go from an overweight chain smoker, to running 50 marathons in 50 days up the New Zealand coast. But there was no question in 2001 after her prognosis, and both found the low-fat/raw vegan lifestyle and never looked back.
In practice, it means mostly fruit and a high volume of green leafy vegetables, and very low in fat (i.e. not too much avocado or nuts/seeds). Today, they typically eat 2 big meals a day. No calorie counting, restriction or anything, just eating til full. It might be lots of papaya with passion fruit (one of their favorites) in the morning, and a huge salad with a most righteous, home-made dressing at night, with more fruit on the side. A truly magical journey throughout the year, just enjoying amazing, in-season fruit as it slowly morphs every couple of months.
So the question is, how in God's name did 2 grandparents, wearing Vibram shoes, run 366 marathons in 366 days, on just raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds? How didn't they breakdown and how'd they mentally keep at it day after day? Furthermore, why in bloody hell did they find it rather easy and enjoyable, even when compared to just 50 marathons in 50 days, 13 years earlier? The raw lifestyle may seem like some sort of disadvantage for those that have never lived it, but actually, it's an enormous advantage. Almost like cheating really. Your body is just operating so efficiently and you recover almost instantaneously, which is why you see 2 smiling people out on a fun adventure and never sore, verses what you may typically see at a marathon: lot's of grunting, i-Pods, cursing, passing out and of course, not being able to walk for the next week. 
This was their quiet, yet impactful way of inspiring others. For those use to running, well you know just how nuts this is. For others, it might almost seem surreal. But to put it in perspective, just go for a 10 mile jog and then realize, they did that almost 3 times everyday for a straight year at an age where most today are constantly in and out of doctors offices and living on medications. Suffice to say, a most perfect way to celebrate being cancer free 13 years later and a thriving level of health.
So what was their journey like? A nice leisurely stroll along the coast, passing by fancy resorts and kangaroos along the way? Well, not quite. Australia is an amazingly diverse, and at times, unforgiving country from terrain to climate. They battled weather from a super cyclone that brought rain for a straight 3 weeks to extreme desert heat. There were hail storms, bush fires, and floods greeting them ever so often as well. There were insane insects along the way, forcing them to cover every inch of their body at times, such as being swarmed by hundreds of black flies following them the entire run. There was the sometimes barren stretches of the outback, with nothing in sight for hundreds of miles. And of course, there were the enormous tractor trailers kicking up water, dust and dirt at 80 MPH. If you think traveling as a vegan is difficult, well try spending months at a time in the Australian outback with nothing around. There were times where they pretty much ran out of food and kept on trekking, as well as a 27 day stretch where they lived on almonds, chia seeds and raisins (making chia pudding of course, every meal of the day).Not to mention the fact that a nasty spill along the way, left Janette badly cut up with broken ribs, yet she still got up the next day and kept at it. 

They would eat whatever was in season at the time, with banana smoothies being a most desired staple throughout, as well as big salads at night. Parts of the country and times of the year were easier than others. However it was especially compounded by the vast stretches of desolate outback in Australia, with very few
people, let alone raw fruits and vegetables. They got to experience Australia in an intimate way, very few get the opportunity to. They would interact with tons along the way, especially old, stubborn cattle ranchers, which dominate the outback. Usually pleasant, up-beat interactions, but always the amusing reactions. "What are you guy's eating along the way?", they were asked. They pointed to their stash of fruit and veggies. "Aint no way you can run a marathon on that". Clearly, he might have a point. Yet, they were on marathon #239. 
The last few weeks were a breeze, literally, just enjoying the beautiful coastal weather and scenery of Tasmania and the southeast coast. Then all of a sudden, it's New Years Eve again, getting ready for #366. In what they describe as feeling like a short jog, they were joined by crowds down the streets of Melbourne to culminate their world record, just around the corner from their home. Yet unlike Odysseus, returning home hidden in disguise, they were most happily greeted at the finish by family and friends, and their much missed grandchildren! A most righteous end to a quite amazing and inspiring odyssey. 
Their story bangs quite loudly, for those listening. Raw fruits and vegetables isn't some crazy, masochistic form of asceticism. It's the furthest thing. Just absolute bliss and perhaps one of the most powerful and amazing kept secrets. Very few know about it and even fewer have lived it for any period of time. But, if you can love your food, feel awesome and have amazing health, well, that is pretty cool. Janette and Alan are still out there running marathons (next one, the Paris International Marathon) and also doing lots of hiking, with a long one (1,000km on the Pilgrim Trail in Spain) coming up in the spring. When not out running, they're back at home, working in the garden, planting fruit trees and of course, hanging with the fam! Anyway, check them out at http://rawveganpath.com/  where you can read more, check out their book or watch their documentary. 
Published February 22, 2018

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