Yasir Salem is used to competition. The competitive eater, who is ranked No. 11 in the world by Major League Eating, has won multiple Tour de Donuts (in which you bike some 30 miles and down doughnuts along the way), as well as cannoli-eating and corn-eating contests.
But beyond competitive eating, the biggest challenges the East Village resident faces are upping the ante against himself. After he did his first marathon in 2010, he learned how to swim to do the New York City Triathlon in 2012; in 2013, he raised the stakes again with his first Ironman.
For his latest challenge, Salem, 40, has been doing a marathon a month in 2017; up next is New York City’s this Sunday, which will actually be his 12th for the year (he doubled up in September).
amNewYork spoke with Salem, who by day is director of group marketing for Hearst Men’s Group, about his unique hobbies.
Have you done this many marathons in a year before?
No, this is a whole other level of craziness. I’ve done 25 or 26 marathons at this point. Half the marathons I’ve ever done were in this year. I feel really good. I used to get little aches and pains in my lower back. I feel like the continuous amount of running, I make sure that I’m not overtraining at all. I think running one marathon a month is not so bad on your body. My body is regenerating more often. At least that’s how it feels. I’ve run a marathon and two or three months later things have not worked itself out. But I’m forced to think about my food and my stretching and my core strength just a little bit more. It’s always top of mind. When I’m working out, I always have a purpose. There’s always the next month coming up. I enjoy having something every four weeks or so, whatever it is — whether it’s a triathlon or a bike race or a Tour de Donut — just to have a reason to either be on the bike or to run. I’ll be honest with you, I think a marathon a month is not for everybody. It’s a little much. The whole point of me doing it was wacky and crazy, something fun and silly. I wanted to see if I could do it, and it was a step above what I was doing before.
How do you train?
I go to New York Sports Club. Two to three times a week I’ll do weights. Every lunch, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I do some kind of high impact interval training. It’s not a lot of time, and I want to make sure that I get my heartrate to the point where I’m out of my comfort zone. On weekends, my wife and I will go for a long, long bike ride — 30, 40, 50 miles. And I’ll do whatever my mileage requirement is for my long run that weekend — it can vary from 10 miles to 20 miles, no more than that though. It depends on where I’m at in my training schedule. That bike ride is more of a fun thing — I consider that like a resting day. We’re not biking superfast. Typically we’ll go around the East Village on the bike path, down Battery Park, up the West Side all the way up to the Bronx and back. Or we’ll go from the West Village, head over the Manhattan Bridge, go down the coast all the way to Far Rockaway and back. Or to City Island and back. It’s awesome. New York City has really good bike paths now.
What’s your diet like, given the amount of training and racing that you do?
I do competitive eating about four or five times a year — I just write those off, that’s not indicative of how I eat. I don’t eat doughnuts — it would put my whole training and nutrition completely out of whack if I did that on a regular basis. I treat them like several Thanksgiving dinners a year — these big huge anomalies. I’m not eating as much before, I’m not eating as much after. It certainly doesn’t negate the whole huge calorie shock to my system when I do these races, or even hormonally. The one thing that I do every single day to make sure I’m competitive and that gives me the fuel for running and whatnot — I eat about a 5-lb. salad every lunch, sometimes 6 lb. And I drink about a half gallon of water. The bulk of the calories from the salad might be from pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, I put a whole avocado in there, and some olive oil — it’s quite a bit of healthy fats. And some protein. If I feel really hungry I might put in beans. My lunches are just massive every day. I have a huge, ridiculous serving bowl that I eat out of at work. I just love eating a really big salad every day. I can always switch it up.
When did this routine develop?
Every single day this year has been a big salad day. And it’s been really good. My eating-contest numbers have gone up. My numbers in the Tour de Donuts have gone to new records. And I have been running very fast marathons, getting close to my fastest run. So everything seems to be in balance — I’m eating the amount of food that I need, the types of food that I need. I’m not saying this type of eating is for everyone — for what I’m doing, what I’m looking for, I need volume to make sure that I can compete in an eating contest. At the same time, I can’t eat 51 doughnuts every day — I’ll be dead. Those big salads are perfect — they give me everything I need.
Have you made connections through all this?
It’s a very tight community, in terms of the competitive eating world. There’s only, you know, 20 people in the world that can eat as many hot dogs as I can. Not only are we competing directly against each other, we’re really the only others that can talk shop about the same thing. It’s a fun, friendship dynamic. We genuinely like each other. We always get together once a month and have beers — at least the ones in the New York area. It’s a friendship circle that is fairly tight.
What’s the next challenge for you?
Ultracycling. I want to qualify for the Race Across America — a 3,000-mile bike race — next year, so that I can do the Race Across America in 2019. That’s a huge dream of mine, just to do it. It’s extremely hard. Even if I do qualify, it doesn’t mean I’ll be able to finish it. I just want to give it everything I got. I love biking — I bike to work every single day.