Meet the Midnight Runners. In 2019 Vega teamed up with the London-based running crew for their most remarkable run to date: a 400km cross country expedition of Tajikistan from the border of Afghanistan to the border of China. The expedition has now been made into an award-winning documentary being released later this year. In anticipation, we caught up with some of the crew and over the next three blogs, will learn more about their nutrition, training and discover what motivates them to run these impossible distances.
Jodie May-Gauld - Runner and plant-based athlete
In this blog post we talk to Jodie May Gauld, expedition runner and plant-based athlete, to learn about her nutrition, training and discover what motivates her to run these impossible distances.
The invite to explore a virtually untrodden route in Tajikistan with friends was a no brainer and ultimately, perhaps I didn't ask enough questions, but at the same time, this meant going in wide eyed and open-minded into an incredible adventure.
Distance is one thing I didn't query too much... until we were actually out in the mountains running at an increasing altitude. Having been welcomed into the world of ultra running several years ago and having always been active, sporty and adventurous, I do feel I have years of built up fitness as well as being aware of listening to my body. That said, I'm no expert, and like everyone can still get a short training run totally wrong! Something I am curious about is testing the limits of the mind and body, and I have learnt that the right nutrition can give me the fuel to persevere when others give up. My experience gave me the confidence that I'd be able to give 400km a good go. Let's see!
Like JB, I had two big events well-spaced before we stepped foot in the Bartang Valley, Lakeland 100 and UTMB's TDS. I used these two events as a focus to train; their timing helped to keep me on track. I'm also a big advocate for proper recovery. After any big event, I make sure I replenish lost water and macronutrients, with carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen levels, and protein from plant-based sources to support muscle function. I try to take a full week off running whilst keeping active by incorporating some gentle cross-training.
Like a lot of people today, my lifestyle and how I like to work, means I'm actually dreadful at following a training plan. If I could, I would definitely give it a go, as training plans help keep me focused and the improvements are obvious. Instead my typical week involves:
- Commute. Before WFH hit in 2020 I would run or cycle my commute 2-4 days a week.
- Staying accountable and running with friends. 2-3 times a week I commit to a group tempo run with my club or a social run with friends.
- Weekends are made for the trails! In case you didn't already guess, I live to explore, my weekends normally involve a trail race or long trail runs with friends.
Generally this routine fits well around a busy or variable lifestyle, splitting the miles into 2-3 runs a day really works around other commitments (as long as there's a shower at the other end, or your company doesn't mind you being sweaty!). It works for me anyway. It's worth noting too that if I'm really not feeling it (and I don't mean because it's a bit grizzly outside), I won't run, I'd rather take a week off than get injured.
Post-workout breakfast for me is typically oats or a smoothie and I've been whizzing in a scoop of Vega Clean Protein vanilla or chocolate. This contains a multi-source blend of plant-based protein, providing all the essential amino acids to support muscle function, so I can keep up with training! I like to be aware of what I'm putting into my body and as my diet is plant-based, Vega has been a reliable source of nutrition to help ensure my diet is giving me the right fuel, especially when the miles increase.
When out for a long run or in a race, I like to have one soft flask of plain water and one with a sports drink to replace electrolytes. Besides this, I'm someone who always needs a snack nearby for when hunger strikes after running around - so I always have a protein bar to hand.
Diary Entry 2 - Day 1
This morning we left behind the Pamir highway and Panjekent River. The river, at times narrow and fierce and at others shallow and wide for the last two days drive has been a constant on our journey. We also left behind the presence of Afghanistan which physically and psychologically loomed large over our group. Afghanistan for me holds memories of a joyless and terrible place which couldn’t stand in more contradiction to the beautiful country that we have witnessed over the last few days. To the others it was a place of the unknown - not even a place - more of a word. A word which conjures up a mix of fear and intrigue in equal measure.
And whilst I have no doubt that the real Afghanistan, the place of war and anguish, away from the green meadows, gushing waterfalls and emerald rivers that we witnessed still exists - these views of this troubled land have helped me reconcile my memories of that country. I will happily take the most recent with me and try and remember Afghanistan as the beautiful place it has showed itself to be the last few days.
Our real journey has begun by turning left and entering the Bartang Valley - our home for the next 9 days. Today was everything I had hoped it to be and more. We ran, for 42km, sometimes talking, sometimes in silence but always with the gushing and familiar sound of the Bartang river at our right. The Bartang maybe more barren and brutal than the other valleys of the Pamir but the river serves as a constant reminder that life exists here and that it remains in constant motion. That for millennia this river has slowly chiseled its way through these mountains and that by running counter to its flow we get to learn its story here in reverse.
Of course, the running here is not easy and we are all full to the brim of concerns and insecurities about our capability or performance. But today was not about personal bests or racing but just about moving. It feels good to be moving again. Even if it the moving is painful beyond compare.
Tonight we will sleep in Siponj village in a homestay overlooking an apple orchard with a balcony that we all shall sleep on. It is like a perfect dream and the perfect place for us to spend the first night in this magical valley as the 6 of us move from being individuals to the small little tribe that we are forming. Tomorrow we set off at dawn, east and head to Basid once again using the mighty Bartang river as our trusty guide.