25 October 2013

The Vegan Runner

My partner Sandy and I are training for our third half marathon. The run is on November 24th in St Petersburg, Florida. It is a women's only event that hosts over twenty thousand women every year.

Four years ago while flipping through the pages of a women's running magazine I saw the advertisement for the race. It was a full page ad with three young women, arms slung around each other, donning huge medals, appearing nearly maniacal with joy.

As I stared at the ad I heard my inner voice declare, "I will run that race before I turn forty." I have no idea where that voice came from. My sometimes paralyzing inner dialogue isn't known for being the get up and go type. But there it was.

It would be a year before I would make the decision to pursue that declaration then bring it up to Sandy. The most I had ever run was five miles which proved to be a one time deal. I had no idea how I would get there, but was determined to try. I found myself standing there asking Sandy to join me in training for a half marathon that would be held over a thousand miles away. Game on.

Not surprising to me now, it was the same year we went vegan. A willingness to try unfamiliar foods like mushrooms, tempeh and Nutritional Yeast went hand in hand with a willingness to try unfamiliar experiences like running, buying vegan shampoo and cooking. New thoughts and feelings began to surface about how to feed my body in this new, cruelty free way.

With learning to become vegan came a natural curiosity about where the foods I commonly ate (cheese, eggs, ice cream) came from. Its like once you are willing to let the information in, you realize that it was there all along.....I just chose to see past, around and through it in order to continue eating what I was accustomed to eating. It takes very little searching to see that the animals producing the dairy and eggs we consume are treated with such horrific cruelty, that there is no nourishment or satisfaction in that. I don't think we have to be an activist or vegan to realize that. So I found myself learning how to be vegan and a runner in the same year.

Vegan...easy. Runner...not so much.

I hired a running coach in an effort to get Sandy and I from runner wannabes to half marathon poster models in six months. Because Coach Kelly was not conversant in veganism (either were we) I found myself asking alot of questions and reading all that I could find on fueling a vegan body in motion.

That first year we learned to fuel with GU gels. They are pudding like gels that come in small foil packets. They are meant to be conveniently squished into your mouth as you are speeding down the road. They are comprised of various versions of the fuel your body needs to keep moving after prolonged exertion. They are an incredibly sweet, gelatinous slurry of sodium, protein and potassium. After running for two hours I would have been willing to choke down a squirrel if I had thought it would have helped me not die. I found that with running long distance came a certain amount of desperation. GU gels would be just fine.

On November 20, 2011 we completed our first ever half marathon. The photos taken of the two of us on that afternoon show the same maniacal joy and personal satisfaction I saw on the faces of the women in the ad. They did not over promise nor under-deliver. It was infinitely more spectacular than I could have imagined.

The following year we would train again with Coach Kelly to run the same half marathon in St Petersburg. This time, with a year of veganism and one half marathon under my belt, I was determined to find a way to fuel our bodies using whole foods in place of gels.

I was convinced that the whole food versions of the nutrients we had been getting from gels would be easier for our bodies to utilize. It made sense to me that if I have been running for an hour, my body which was already in a state of exertion (panic) would prefer a recognizable protein or salt so it didn't have to work at figuring out how to digest something synthetic. Fair enough.

The gels we were using contain protein, potassium and sodium. Easy enough to replicate. I started by stuffing large juicy dates with sea salt and two raw almonds, a trick I learned from JL Goes Vegan. I stored the potassium packed dates in small ziploc baggies and put them in our running packs. I also began to experiment with whole food energy bars that I could freeze and pull out for each run. Here is the link to my favorite energy bar recipe Blondie Energy Bars.

The difference in our runs and recovery was staggering. We no longer felt any gastrointestinal upset (belly ache, gas, nausea. Yup it happens) while running. Even better still, we didn't feel depleted by the end of our run and we recovered quicker and felt better the next day.

We also changed our hydration to Ultima Replenisher, an all natural electrolyte drink powder that makes us feel super charged without all of the super chemicals.

The amazing thing is that these small changes made such a huge difference in the way our bodies felt and they were significantly less expensive than what we had been using to fuel our bodies. Had I not become so curious about feeding my body vegan style, I would not have questioned what I was consuming while running.

Our bodies need fuel to work, play and be happy humans. The cleanest, least expensive and most nutritionally abundant fuel we can possibly feed ourselves comes from plants, preferably of the whole food variety. Becoming a vegan running wannabe helped me to explore new ways to do just that.... feed my body and mind with the maximum amount of energy to sustain me for the fun things I want to do.

Our third half marathon is almost here. Training runs and natural energy bars have taken over our lives. Had you asked me four years ago if I could ever run a half marathon.....on plants and chia seeds none the less, I would have thought you had lost your mind. But here I am..running around all over town fueled by plants. The only thing lost has been the limitations and fear I used to feel. We can do this. We can open our minds to new foods and new experiences.

You will be amazed by how good you can actually feel when you give yourself the opportunity to make new choices and try new things.

Have a delicious day.

Sherry Duquet | Facebook
Sherry is on a mission to inspire others to join in her journey to change the world, one meal at a time. As a long time vegetarian and vegan newbie, Sherry launched a compassionate living blog Exploits of a Vegan Wannabe where she welcomes meat-a-tarians, vegans and anyone interested in creating change with their choices and voices.

Photo credit: Sherry