Way back in 1932 a man woke up one morning and ran 66 miles up and down 42 of the highest peaks in the Lake District. He did it in 24 hours. And he was 42 at the time.
Unsurprisingly, people remembered Bob Graham’s feat. To this day, hundreds of runners try to emulate his achievement each year. Only about a third of them finish.
One man who has completed the challenge is Mikk Murray, a bearded 20-something vegan with a taste for long distance running. I asked him if he wanted to have a chat about how his two passions – running and veganism – overlap. He suggested we go for a run.
It’s an uncharacteristically wet June morning as we head off into the Peak District to North Burbage. We get out of the car and pull our waterproofs over our shorts before hitting the trail.
This is a recovery run for Mikk, who can clock up 70 miles in an average week, so thankfully he says we can take it steady. Still, he set quite a pace.
“I just love being out in nature,” he says, effortlessly skipping over rocks jutting out the dirt path. “It’s soul food. You’ve not really got time to get lost in your thoughts or let things bother you because you’re always watching the path so you don’t fall. It’s meditative, in a way.”
He questions why anyone would want to run on pavements when they have access to green spaces outdoors. And it’s easy to see his point even on such a soggy day.
Mikk, a member of Team Accelerate, has been running for six years and over time has found happiness in adding different challenges to his running routine, often running at night or in bad weather.
“You just kind of laugh out loud and think ‘this is bonkers. What am I doing? People are in town, drunk and dancing and here I am in the middle of nowhere up a mountain in this crazy weather’. I just find it hilarious because I’m enjoying myself so much,” he smiles.
But, like everyone, Mikk started at the very beginning with the basics. Looking to change his lifestyle Mikk’s running hobby started with a quick jog from his front door to the traffic lights 10 minutes away. He went out every other day, diligently resting in between. Eventually he made it to the woods and never looked back.
We reach the first peak of our 10k run and slap the trig at the top like a save point in a video game. Wanting to get Mikk to talk so I could catch my breath, I ask how he discovered veganism.
As Mikk’s running and quest to become healthier became more intense, he watched Gary Yourofsky’s greatest ever speech. “From that day on, it clicked,” he tells me. “I didn’t like where meat and dairy came from. I didn’t like the cruelty in the industry, the treatment of the animals and I learnt that we don’t even need it.”
“Then I found that there are so many vegan athletes and vegan celebrities who have been doing it for years. It all linked into my journey of eating better and having a better lifestyle overall.”
Rest over, we head down the other side of the peak. Mikk tells me that, in his opinion, there are plenty of parallels between veganism and running. “We were born to run and to move around but we live in these concrete jungles in the thick of the city. We have these little pockets of trees and grass everywhere, but we should be in nature. We’re disconnected in cities and I think when you’re in the Peak District, or the Lake District or Wales, you find that connection again. I believe that as humans, we’re longing for it now.”
As well as finding a cruelty-free lifestyle, Mikk’s health improved dramatically. His recovery time was enhanced, he had newfound energy to take on longer and more challenging runs and his plateaus are long gone. Plus, the changes gave him a new passion for food.
“I’ll eat everything. I’m hungry all the time and that’s not because I’m vegan and I’m eating grass. That’s because I’m running 60-70 miles a week over rough terrain.”
“I’m tired and I need to eat, so I’ll eat a bag of donuts, and three portions of curry and rice. If I wake up and want to eat 10 bananas straight away, I’ll do it.” We share a laugh and talk about the best foods to pig out on as the track twists and turns us through the countryside as the rain persists.
As we put the bulk of the distance behind us and the car comes back into sight, I ask Mikk what advice he’d give to people new to veganism. “I’d really encourage experimenting. If you’re interested in veganism, cook a few vegan meals. Try some recipes out. Implement it into your life slowly, it doesn’t need to be a cold turkey change,” he says.
“Slowly and steadily, learn about veganism, hang out with other vegans, use social media, join Facebook groups and see how compassionate and welcoming the community is and how accepting they are. I don’t think you’ll have any problems.”
We take off our wet outer layers and get back into the car for a quick drive home. On the way, he says he’s hungry and asks if I’d like to get a vegan burger. Of course, I said yes.