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August 10, 2007

Thirty-nine-year-old Todd Webb of San Diego owns his own real estate investment company, designs software for the Department of Defense, and is training for one of the hardest physical endurance races in the world. Next summer, Webb and three teammates will compete in Primal Quest, which he calls “an off-road team version of the Ironman triathalon.” Four-person co-ed teams will set out on an unmarked course with only a map, and for up to 10 days they’ll bike, paddle, climb, swim, and trek though hundreds of miles of rugged terrain. The annual competition debuted in 2002 in Telluride, Colo., with the environmental ethos “leave no trace.” The location of next year’s competition won’t be announced until a few weeks before the race in June, so veteran veg Webb is training his body—through diet and exercise—to be prepared for anything.

VT: How did you become involved in Primal Quest?

Webb: I saw the show Eco-Challenge, one of the predecessors of Primal Quest, on TV. I was captivated when I saw that even Navy Seals were forced to drop out and a world-class athlete dropped to her knees and cried. I was inspired by the unyielding determination of other teams facing injury and disqualification.

VT: What’s your interest in this race in particular, and how does its environmental slant play a role in your decision to join it? 

Webb: Its environmental ethos is hugely important to me. Adventure racers in general have a deep respect for the great outdoors, which is their playground. You will often see a team stop during a race to pick up a candy wrapper accidentally dropped by another team as opposed to a big city marathon that requires an army of volunteers to pick up the trash.

VT: So when and why did you go veg? 

Webb: My mother and father have been strict vegetarians my whole life. So cooking and eating vegetarian was second nature to me. In high school, I began learning more about nutrition, which emphasized many things my parents had already taught me. So I cut red meat out of my diet. That was 1986. I went strict vegetarian in my late 20s, but the biggest hurdle proved to be eggs. They’re in so many products and about every pasta dish you get in restaurants, so I eventually added eggs back.

VT: How does your vegetarianism play into your training for Primal Quest? 

Webb: Even with job stress and lots of training, I am almost never sick. When I am, it’s mild. I truly believe that this is largely due to my diet and avoidance of drugs.

VT: Do you find it harder to be a vegetarian athlete as opposed to a meat-eating one?

Webb: At times, it can be hard to find veg food. In 2002, I was at a race in Hidalgo, Mexico. The sponsors provided the meals and everything had ham in it. With my limited conversational Spanish, I told them I didn’t eat meat, and most of them looked at me in disbelief!  

VT: What kind of meals do you eat when training? 

Webb: I try to eat 4 to 6 meals a day; the most important is the meal immediately after training. It’s usually a smoothie made with berries, protein powder, electrolyte replacement, some vegetarian supplements, and orange juice. Then an Amy’s bean burrito and some vegetables or salad. My first favorite meal is my stir fry: tofu, garlic, green onions, carrots, asparagus, bok choy, bamboo shoots, and Chinese peas over brown jasmine rice. The second is a California burrito: vegetarian refried beans, meat substitute, fresh onions, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, avocado, and La Victoria hot sauce in a whole-wheat tortilla.

VT: What are your favorite protein-packed snacks? 

Webb: Nuts. I always have some at my desk to munch on, especially almonds.

VT: What will you be eating during the duration of the Quest? 

Webb: During the race, it is possible to burn 12,000 calories or more a day. The bottom line is replacing electrolytes and getting as many calories as possible. So, lots of sport gels and drinks, energy bars, nuts, and candy bars. When I can slow down a little, maybe bean burritos and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

VT: Anything else we should know about your vegetarian lifestyle and its role in being physically fit?

Webb: I get a lot of grief from people about my diet, but I rather enjoy the attention. The best part is when someone who previously teased me decides to make some positive changes to their diet and they come to me for advice.

To learn more about the 2008 Primal Quest competition, go to ecoprimalquest.com

—Jacqueline Smith, assistant editor

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