Vegan Runner Wins “The World’s Toughest Footrace” For Second Time

|Updated Dec 13, 2022
Harvey Lewis

Vegan athlete Harvey Lewis just became the latest champion of "the world's toughest footrace," the Badwater 135, located in the Badwater Basin in Death Valley. The Badwater is a gruelingly hot 135-mile long course that traverses one of the hottest regions of the country from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney and is known as the most extreme ultra-distance race in the world. In order to even finish the event, runners endure both extreme elevation changes, starting at 85 meters below sea level in Death Valley, and finishing at 2,530 meters above sea level on Mt. Whitney and temperatures that were, even for that race's standards, inhumanly hot.

Lewis won in part, he said, because of the benefits of endurance training on a plant-based diet. “I credit much of my success in ultrarunning to a stomach that enables me to devour tons of doos and start running instantly,” Lewis explained.

The forty-five-year-old athlete won the ultrarunning event for the second time, having also won it in 2014. In total, he has completed the “world toughest footrace” 10 times. Lewis quit eating meat in 1996 to enhance his personal health and boost his athletic performance. Since then, Lewis has claimed to experience substantial positive results that motivated him to maintain his vegan diet, boasting about the nutritional value that this change held for him.

When talking to Cincinnati People, Lewis explained that plant-based eating allows him to eat the “necessary ingredients for [his] body to bounce back quickly from punishing endurance events over one hundred miles.” The athlete goes on to explain that following the grueling athletic event, his body needs the right nutrients to recover and that he’s found that a plant-based diet will allow him to “run a 24-hour race hitting over 158 miles and then run to school the very next day.”

After Lewis won his first Badwater race, he decided to completely drop animal products in 2016. The runner’s decision to go fully plant-based was inspired by how much more energy his vegetarian diet gave him, telling City Beat, “We would do a lot better if we move toward more plant-based foods for the benefit of curbing the No. 1 killer (diseases ) in America.”

In 2015 and 2017, Lewis competed in and won the NorthCoast 24 Hour Endurance Run in Cleaveland, OH. He won once as a vegetarian and again after he adopted his fully plant-based diet, citing that the most important factor in retaining his athletic ability was his diet.

“It’s the single most important ingredient to my longevity in the sport,” Lewis said to VegNews in 2019. “My health, energy, and performance as a runner changed dramatically when I became vegetarian [and, more recently, vegan]. I truly believe it’s possible that I could win 24-hour races for many years to come. One of my friends, Marco Olmo of Italy, won the famed UTMB at age 57 eating plant-based and another friend, Mike Fremont, is still setting records in the half marathon at age 97 eating all vegan.”

With the rising awareness regarding plant-based eating, more athletes have begun adopting vegan diets. Typically, the public sees veganism as lacking nutritional value, especially when discussing protein consumption, but many plant-based athletes have worked to debunk these myths. Vegan Olympians such as David Verburg who won two gold medals from the 2016 Olympics, and Dotsie Bausch who won a silver medal in cycling continue to disprove misconceptions about plant-based diets.

Fellow runner Catra Corbett also set a record on the John Muir Trail in 2018, claiming that her vegan diet helps keep her endurance at 53 years old. The plant-based diet is rapidly becoming linked to improving athletic performance, and more athletes like Lewis keep proving their point by winning the gold medals.