Michael Arnstein and I are wandering aimlessly through the chaos of the Grand Street markets in New York City's Chinatown. Actually, check that: I am confused and disoriented, overwhelmed by the crush of vendors, shoppers, tourists, and locals using the thoroughfare to get somewhere else. But where I see a mass of unorganized, unexplainable, unpredictable humanity, my guide sees breakfast. And lunch and dinner. Also: snacks in between meals. And juice.
Five years ago, Arnstein—one of the best 100-mile runners in the country—became a fruitarian. "I read a book on low-fat raw fruit diet, based on fruits and vegetables,” the slight runner says a few feet from a street-side stand brimming with apples, oranges, pomegranates, mangos, and other unidentifiable-but-colorful fare. “It changed everything about me, almost overnight. I went really hardcore about it." The cardboard signs are in Chinese, except for the prices. Those are in regular old Arabic numerals. "I've become a super athlete based on just eating fruits and vegetables."
Arnstein, who finished 29th in the 2011 New York City Marathon, currently consumes 30 pounds of fruit daily, enough to fuel the 15-mile run he does twice a day between his midtown Manhattan office and his house on the border of the Bronx and Westchester County. After starting the diet, he learned that Chinatown boasted the best selection of fruits in the city. Individual vendors have more than two-dozen different options, even now in mid-January. He agreed to show me around his favorite spots, even though he no longer shops here. After a few years of buying retail, Arnstein realized the vendors must purchase their fruit from somewhere bigger. He located the wholesaler's shop in Queens, near the Kosciuszko Bridge, and goes once every two weeks to stock up. His home has four fridges.
THE RUNNER ARRIVES IN Chinatown as he arrives almost everywhere: by running. He is wearing the typical New York-distance-runner-in-the-winter uniform: a hat, a long-sleeve shirt from a marathon, tights, and gloves. I don't know how far he ran to reach lower Manhattan, but he doesn't appear even a little bit winded. Arnstein is slight in the way that good marathoners are—all taut skin and sinewy muscle; it's a body tuned to go rapidly forward, one step at a time, for hours on end—and he speaks with the energy of a rambunctious four-year-old or an adult who knows about a secret lifestyle of which you are unaware.
It's because he does. The man, who says he was raised on McDonald's, was a solid ultrarunner before taking up fruitarianism. Now, he's elite. "I just ran 100 miles in 12 hours, 57 minutes. I'm in the top 10 all time, ever," Arnstein says, sounding astonished at his own fruit-fueled capacity. (During long runs he munches on dates or Maltadextrin gels, which is pretty much the only time he's not eating 100-percent raw fruit.) "How do you run 100 miles and do the last 10 miles in an hour and six minutes? Mile 90, I'm running 6:30s. It's crazy. Look at these Asian pears! Crazy!"
He knows his fruits. A brief guided tour:
SATSUMA ORANGES: "Super, super sweet. Really easy to peel. You have to eat them when they are at peak sweetness. In terms of oranges, as a fruitarian, this is my all time favorite orange. I've been eating cases and cases of these for the last month."
SHARON FRUITS: "They are flown in from Israel. When they are soft, they are one of the sweetest fruits you can eat. Available for six weeks out of the year. Exceptional, awesome fruit, but you gotta eat it when it's ripe."