1. Describe your dairy-free journey.
I spent the majority of my life working in the restaurant industry, most notably between 2013–2017 where I oversaw operations and was part owner of a Neapolitan Pizzeria in Austin, TX. Working at a pizzeria for so long meant that cheese was a major staple in my diet. When I left the pizzeria and moved to Denver, I was searching for a way to realign my lifestyle with my passions. Simply being separated from a constant source of cheese, my dairy consumption took a drastic nose dive. I quickly noticed that my body felt a lot lighter, and the recovery time between runs had decreased considerably. While searching for my next career and running a lot in Colorado, I became more and more aware that a plant-based diet was without a doubt the most optimal for my health and performance. It wasn’t long before the positive environmental and ethical implications of my newfound diet became really important to me. Now, my reasons for abstaining from meat and dairy are in the reverse order. The ethical argument for a diet free of animal products has become my most motivating driver, followed by environmental and then performance benefits. The idea of harming another living being at my expense is unacceptable to me.
2. What’s your proudest moment so far as a dairy-free athlete?
I completed four ultramarathons ranging in distances from 50 to 62 miles in just over two months. Having the ability to push at a race effort on challenging trails and recover in time for the next one (sometimes two weeks later) has been a huge confidence booster for me and a series of achievements that I am very proud of.
3. Why run across America? What are you looking forward to during the run?
I’ve chosen to run across America because it’s a monumental task. I want to “walk the walk,” or in this case “run the run,” in order to align my actions with my beliefs. Through taking on such a huge feat I hope to show others what is possible on a plant-based diet and be a catalyst for change.
The two things I am most looking forward to are 1) The meditation of the experience. I anticipate that there will be many personal realizations and transformations as I traverse the 3,200 miles from Los Angeles to New York City. 2) Engagement with people I meet along the route. I want to listen to other people’s stories and tell them about what fuels me physically and emotionally as I traverse the country.
4. What dairy-free food makes you feel awesome?
NadaMoo! Dairy-Free Ice Cream! It’s delicious, first of all. Also, the company’s support while I have been preparing for this run has been instrumental to my success. I truly love their ice cream and the team behind the company is made up of such bright and amazing people.
Robbie Balenger is an ultra-endurance runner planning a run across America beginning on March 16. His journey will take him from Orange County, CA to New York with a goal of 75 days or less. Switch4Good and NadaMoo! are supporting him on his journey, but he could also use your help! To offer your support to this awesome dairy-free athlete, visit his GoFundMe page.