Five years ago, I began a year-long quest to run a marathon every weekend of one calendar year, all while working a full-time job. After successfully completing 52 marathons in 52 weekends, the question from friends, family and fellow runners was, “What’s next?”

In 2008, I ran the Boston Marathon twice in the same day. “That’s amazing,” they said, “Now what?”

So, in 2010, I ran the 202-mile American Odyssey Relay from Get­tysburg, PA, to Washington, DC. Typi­cally a 12-person team event, I ran it solo in just over 50 hours. Again, the inevitable question: “What’s next?”

This time, the answer surprised many people. Instead of another first in running, I became the first national “spokesrunner” for Team BEEF.

Beef-loving athletes

Team BEEF is a group of beef-loving athletes competing in running, cycling and triathlon events, while spreading the message that beef provides “Fuel for the Finish.” I joined Team BEEF not only because I love the taste of beef but to share the fact that it’s extremely healthful!

State Beef Councils nationwide are enlisting athletes to join Team BEEF and participate in races ranging from 5Ks to Iron­man triathlons – races sponsored by the beef checkoff. I recently ran in two Team BEEF events – the Boilermaker 15K Road Race in Utica with the New York Beef Industry Council, and the Boise Ironman 70.3 with the Idaho Beef Council. More than 50 Team BEEF triathletes competed in the Boise Ironman 70.3, and nearly 100 runners proudly wore their steak-adorned jersey at the Boilermaker, a race that attracts Olympic-class runners from around the world.

But more than just showing up and running the race in a Team BEEF jersey, I’ve had many opportunities to talk to other athletes about beef at the pre-race expos, pasta dinners and via speaking appearances. And, through Facebook, Twitter and my blog, “See Dane Run,” I take on questions and diffuse misgivings at every turn.

No matter the venue, fellow runners seem to be incredibly interested in what shoes I wear, how I train week after week without injury and, most importantly, exactly what I eat – pre-race, post-race and even during a race – to properly fuel my body. The answer I truthfully give is that eating a steak the night before the race, and heading straight to a steakhouse after the race to refuel with beef, has been my go-to formula for as long as I can remember.

Fueling on lean beef

Fueling up on lean beef runs counter to what many athletes have heard in the past. Carb-loading – the pre-race pasta dinner – is a tradition so ingrained in many runners’ routines that it can be difficult to get some to think of any other form of eating when preparing for an athletic endeavor.

The spaghetti dinner still common at many races is the last remnant of an old training technique in which athletes underwent an intensive carbohydrate-loading period followed by a carb-deletion phase, and then carb-binging, in the final days leading up to a competition. Today, only the final binge phase remains and the pasta dinner is simply an excuse for nervous newbies and wise old veterans to gather prior to a race, share stories, compare non-precious medals from previous races and eat a ton of food.

I figured when I began running with Team BEEF in races across the nation that this antiquated idea of how to properly fuel for a race would be hard to defeat. Fortunately, I’ve not only found very few people opposed to the idea of fueling on a lean beef diet, but have often been seen as a shining beacon for many who do just that.

“Oh, thank you,” many have said, “I am so tired of my vegan friends telling me that I am sabotaging my race by eating beef.” Time after time, in races across the nation, from runners of all speeds and abilities, the message is quite clear: beef provides fuel for the finish.

Balancing lifestyle, diet

I represent what athletes can do when they balance a healthy lifestyle with a healthful diet of lean beef. And my faith has been bolstered by the fact that many people still go by what they’ve learned from their own experiences and ignore the vocal few who tell them what they’re doing is wrong. If you’re seeing results from a certain shoe or training technique, chances are slim you’ll change it because somebody thinks their technique is better. The same goes for the way athletes choose to finely tune their bodies with the proper mixture of protein, iron, zinc and, well, the fantastic flavor of beef.

I always knew beef helped me prepare for and recover from races, but I never knew why until I learned about beef’s nutritional profile. When I tell athletes that there are more than 29 cuts of beef leaner than a skinless chicken thigh, their jaws drop. When I share that a 3-oz. serving of lean beef provides half the protein needed in an average adult’s daily diet at the cost of only about 150 calories, I sense a feeling of relief.

When I ran both the Boilermaker 15K and the Ironman 70.3, I did so having run dozens of other races this year, including marathons, half marathons,10Ks and triathlons. In neither race could I say I had specifically trained for those distances nor was I in any way rested or prepped properly. However, even constantly traveling to these races across the country never knowing where I will eat my next meal, I know that if I can find myself a steak, I will be fine.

When people say, “You run a lot – I bet you can eat whatever you want,” I always like to point out that the human body is like a well-tuned race car. Once you’ve primed that car to the point of performance where you’re depending on it to fire on all cylinders, the last thing you want to do is put gunky gasoline in it.

In finishing 143rd out of 1,212 triathletes at the Ironman event, and 299th out of 11,075 runners at the Boilermaker 15K, I know I can thank many things for getting me to the finish line. Making sure there was no gunk in my engine by eating a diet high in lean beef is near the top.

I can proudly say that I run for, and because of, beef! 

Dane Rauschenberg is an extreme athlete and Team BEEF spokesrunner.