Most sportspeople are willing to try anything new, be it different training sessions, learning how to meditate or starting a whole new eating programme as long as they improve and achieve the results they crave. Trevor Toerien, a runner from Boksburg, has done exactly that. Through revolutionising his diet, Trevor believes he has transformed his sporting career, and achieved running times he would never have done otherwise. An added bonus: his arthritis has since disappeared. Modern Athlete chatted to Trevor on his conscious health choices in order to live a longer, healthier life and run stronger.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
The first thing that catches your eye when you walk into the pretty kitchen of a house in Germiston on the East Rand, is the luscious green wheatgrass in trays on the counter. Very close to those lie more trays, showcasing sprouts bursting with goodness. You immediately feel guilty about the scone you had for breakfast. And when you open one of the kitchen cupboards, you find rows and rows of imported and local vitamins, minerals and other supplements. With an experienced hand, Trevor cuts the wheatgrass, pops it into the blender and within minutes he whips up a wheatgrass shot, which is equivalent to about 1kg of fresh garden vegetables in nutritional value, something he has twice a day. While many of us wake up to toast and coffee or good old fashioned cereal, Trevor grinds a mixture of seeds into a powder which he has with water. He washes it down with a teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar, which is known to alkalize the body. And that is breakfast done for Trevor Toerien.
“I will eat anything as long as it is nutritious. I don’t care what it tastes like. Wheatgrass is an acquired taste. It does taste a bit like cut grass, but I enjoy it. If I know something is good for me, I will have it,” says Trevor, who has just won the gruelling 52km Rhodes Ultra Marathon in a time of 4:30:50. Trevor’s winning margin of 20:26 was the fourth biggest in the 21 year history of the race. He also finished fifth overall (and first Veteran) in the recent Donkey’s Pass 24km Mountain Challenge just outside Newcastle. And to top it all off, he blitzed to second place in the Veteran’s Category of the Central Gauteng Athletics Cross Country Championships held in August in an unofficial time of 26:31.
For this 43-year-old runner, living and eating healthily has become a way of life. “Initially, my friends thought I was obsessive, but once they got to know what I eat and why, they realised there is nothing weird about it.” Amongst his friends and fellow Boksburg runners, Trevor has become known for his somewhat different way of doing things, such as the time earlier this year when he took 18 bags to a Comrades training camp. He made sure he had everything from the wheatgrass to a blender to an ozone therapy machine. He uses this machine from time to time as he feels it improves circulation, relaxes blood vessels and helps to release more oxygen at tissue level. He also packed two kettlebells, a functional movement training tool, weighing 24kg each. “I must admit, it takes me very long to pack. My wife had to transport my bags with a bakkie to the bus we were travelling in. My club mates know me by now. They just laugh and say if I can run a 6:20 Comrades, they don’t care how many bags I take with. Trevor has conquered nine Comrades Marathons and ran a personal best of 6:20:34 this year, earning him his fifth silver medal.
A CHANGE OF LIFE
Trevor has suffered from arthritis since the age of eight. His aunt died from health complications as a result of arthritis and as a teenager Trevor realised that if he wasn’t careful, the same could happen to him. At the age of 21, he became a vegetarian. “It helped me to manage the pain a bit, but it didn’t take the arthritis away.” Trevor started running for Germiston Callies Harriers when he was 31 and within a year, he signed up for his first Comrades (2000). He finished in a time of 9:19. “I thought I was only going to do one. But then everyone said you have to do one up and one down run. And once that happens you just want to do more.” And that’s exactly what he did. He trained hard and longed for a silver medal in his third Comrades in 2002. “Unfortunately, I was overconfident and I went out there just expecting it to happen. I did not respect the race. I landed up running 8:03. I was so disappointed. Something like that really brings you back to earth and gets you off your high horse. It made me respect Comrades, but I was so bitterly disappointed that I took a year off running. I did not do anything and thought I would never run again.” A year later, while watching the Comrades on TV, things changed and the running bug bit again.
“While watching, I realised I should be running there. I got inspired again and slowly started training.” Trevor claimed his silver medal the next year (2004) finishing in 7:25. In 2005, he missed a second silver, finishing in 7:33. That was when he started suspecting something was missing in either his training or diet. “I thought, why am I struggling so much with my running? I realised my training was spot on and I started looking at my diet.” After doing a lot of research on health matters and soya products specifically, he decided to revert back to eating meat as a lot of soya products are genetically modified. He gradually became increasingly interested in all aspects of health and started importing a range of colloidal minerals from the USA. “These minerals contain everything your body needs and because they are in a liquid form, they get absorbed into your bloodstream quickly. I believe it has helped me a lot in terms of energy and endurance.”
Trevor started growing his own wheatgrass and sprouts in his kitchen as well as vegetables in his garden. He finds wheatgrass especially beneficial as it is known for its alkalizing qualities. It also contains a great deal of enzymes that serve as antioxidants. For lunch, Trevor digs into a bowl of sprouts and salad. Dinner time, it’s more sprouts with either grilled fish or chicken. He also eats a South American grain called quinoa, which is tasty and high in protein. He doesn’t eat any potatoes, bread or rice. “Some people walk into my kitchen and comment that it looks like a farm, but I believe living this way basically guarantees you a disease-free life. I know for sure it has helped my running tremendously. I don’t think I am a talented runner. I think my improved ability has a lot to do with my changed diet.” In a restaurant, he usually orders grilled fish. “I don’t like any sauces on my food. Just give me the food the way it was supposed to be, with no additives,” says Trevor.
Yes, he has a life and he does have junk food once in a while! “After the Donkey’s Pass race, we had dinner with friends and I had two glasses of red wine and game. I enjoyed it, but while driving back the next day, I could already feel the effect it had on my body. At home, I went on a bit of a detox and I was fine.” For Trevor, eating healthily has become a lifestyle which he has adapted to and enjoys, especially the benefits he reaps from it. For the last couple of years, he has not suffered from the pain that goes with arthritis. “Of course I get sick, but to me it is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s your body’s way of getting rid of toxins. I just try and dose myself with natural supplements. I have not been to a doctor in thirty years or taken any medication. I don’t want to give away my powers to doctors. I respect them and they serve a valuable purpose, but I feel I can heal my body better the way I know how. I do visit a homeopath from time to time. You can take control of your own health; it’s just a matter of believing it.”
Trevor’s wife, Gaynor, and two sons, Evan (13) and Jody (8), don’t eat the same meals as him. They do have some sprouts and salads, but Gaynor prepares a different meal for her and the boys. “I’m very fortunate that my wife helps me to prepare my food. I have my family’s support and without my wife helping me it would be very difficult to stick to my eating plan. I give my boys some supplements, but it’s up to them to change their eating habits if they want to. Change must come from them and they should not be forced into it,” says Trevor.
TRAINING AND RACES
Trevor mixes up his training with speed work, hills, cross country runs and long distance. In the months building up to Comrades, he runs about 12km some mornings. These runs include two so-called ‘hot spots’, where he runs flat out for 1km and then eases off. Track training on Tuesdays consists of about ten 400m sessions and once a week he does a time trial. Thursdays are reserved for long hilly runs followed by a long club run or race on the weekends. “I do anything between 100km and 120km a week, but in peak training weeks just before Comrades, I run over 200km a week. I usually join my club on a Comrades training camp where we train on the Comrades route. Then I run 40km a day for four days. I love it. It is so inspiring and a great confidence booster.” Trevor includes strength training in his exercise regime and trains mornings and nights with two kettlebells, which he feels have strengthened his legs, upper body and core area.
He finds the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon to be a tough race as it usually forms part of his build up to Comrades and he is not very fit at that time. He remembers one particular Two Oceans where he sat at the side of the road feeling as if he was going to die. “I didn’t train well that year and thought I could run on memory. I didn’t bail, which was good. I did bail once in my life and that was at the RAC Tough One.” Trevor ran this Randburg race shortly after his one year lay off from running. “I wasn’t used to the distance and gave up at about 28km. I got into a car and was later devastated that I bailed.” His favourite race is the Rhodes Ultra Marathon, which he has run four times and won twice. “It is a beautiful race. I’m not the sort of guy who will win any road races, but to win a trail run like that was special.”
He has a competitive spirit and loves to give his all. “I always measure myself and say, ‘Well, if you did that, what else could you do?’ In every race and training session I like to run on the edge and push myself.”
GOALS AND DREAMS
Trevor would love to run even faster, but for that to happen, he feels he will have to follow an even stricter diet and train harder. “My dream is to run a sub six hour Comrades, but I’m not getting any younger. It gets harder the older you get. I’m going to run one more Comrades next year. Then I will have done ten. After that I would like to concentrate on Two Oceans.” He believes wholeheartedly in his healthy way of living, but is very cautious of telling other runners what to do. “I would rather live by example and if others see it works for me and they want advice, I am willing to share my story.”
Trevor has one ultimate dream, “To run Comrades at the age of 100. I want to be the oldest finisher of Comrades.”
Not being able to run makes me feel… As if something is missing. It’s almost like a drug.
I run because… It helps me in everyday life and in my business. It’s like a form of meditation. While you run you can think about things and let go of a lot of other things.
I like long distance running because… It builds character.
Hardest run ever: Cross country Championships – Witbank
Words to live by: Never give up.
Words of advice: If you work hard, you will achieve. It’s not about wishing for it, it’s about going after it.
Running mentor: Frank Da Ascencao.