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Marathon Training: Vegan Style

Training for a marathon vegan style. See how one Warrior’s before-hand research and preparation kept her healthy and energetic.

marathon_woman_race_track_starting line_picHi! My name is Nichole, and I’ve had the opportunity to run ten marathons. My last one was a new world record in the indoor marathon of 2:57:34 (overall win) at the “Zoom! Yah! Yah! Marathon” in Northfield, Minnesota. Earlier this year, I ran a personal best of 2:44:12 for 69th place at the US Olympic Trials in Houston, Texas. I often am asked how I fuel properly for a marathon. Although I am not an expert or a nutritionist, through much experimentation and research, I’d like to share with you what worked the best for me in hope that your next marathon or endurance athletics event will run smoothly.

One Week Out

I adhere to the old-fashioned carb-loading regimen. For the six days prior to the marathon, I spend days six through four eating only protein and fat. This is a pretty difficult time for me, because I need to meet my daily caloric needs without many of the carb-heavy foods I love. It's difficult to create a day’s worth of calories out of protein shakes, eggs, tofu, lettuce wraps, and peanut butter, but worth it. There are so many great recipes out there that are based on plant-based proteins that Sunwarrior provides. The purpose of this portion of the diet is to completely deprive your body of carbohydrates. By the third day of the diet, you’ll notice you’re breathing harder and running will take more effort. Make sure to hit your caloric needs during these three days. I use a calorie tracker to ensure I take in enough.

Days three through race day

pasta_carbohydrates_colander_healthy_grain_picI eat nothing but carbohydrates. Think wheat pasta and bagels. It’s actually a pretty exciting time for me – I LOVE carbohydrates.

I have never hit the wall while adhering to this diet. Honestly. Part of that is that I’m just better trained—I’m now running a max of 100 miles per week with a lot of tempo work built inside of my long runs. But I feel like my week-of-race nutrition has definitely played a role. I have tried the newer carb-loading strategy as well, where you omit the depletion stage, but I find that my body doesn’t seem to store as much during the carb-loading stage.

Race Day

I am very picky about what I put into my body, as I’ve learned every calorie and every nutrient counts.

The morning of a marathon, I’ll set two alarms: one two hours and fifteen minutes before race start, and another one hour and forty-five minutes before race start. For the first alarm, I’ll eat something I consider to be harder to digest. In my case, that’s a bagel and jam (preferably organic). I lie back down for a little while until I hear the second alarm, where I eat another ¾ cup of oatmeal.

Why the two breakfasts, you ask? I’ve found that I just can’t digest enough close to the marathon (I now know I need a lot in me before the gun goes off!), so I wake up earlier & take a quick 30 minute “nap” to aid in digesting the amount of food I need.

Fifteen minutes before the race, I pull out my first gel (I use Carb-BOOM brand as they’re all natural – instead of using an artificial flavor, they use actual fruit puree). This first gel has caffeine.

marathon water_run_race_picFrom the gun start and on, I have learned to fuel on feel. I know I typically need at least five gels during the course of the marathon. You’re probably thinking: six gels during a marathon is a lot (including the pre-race gel). Perhaps it is, but that’s what I’ve found is ideal for myself. You should use what works best for you.

My first marathon I ran with just one gel. I finished in 3:07 and the last six miles were absolutely torturous. My fourth marathon I took four gels and still found myself a little dizzy during the last 10k of the marathon, and finished in 2:55. Since I’ve begun taking one gel prior-to and five during-race, I have warded off the 10k finishing dizziness and also have improved my PR significantly.

So how do you know if you’ve taken too much? I constantly monitor my stomach during a marathon. The worst thing would be for a side-ache from taking too much fluid or carbohydrate. I’ve learned to eat right up until I feel like I’ll be full or I’ll be able to feel my fuel bouncing in my stomach. Generally, I’ve learned that this is five gel packets during the race, spaced frequently (the first being around mile six). You can practice this fueling technique during a couple of your long runs as well.

Fueling appropriately for a marathon is so important. Practice during your long runs to find what works for you, taking in more instead of less when first experimenting. If you’ve ever had trouble with dizziness or lack of concentration during the last 10k, consider the carb-depletion and loading diet pre-marathon diet and increasing your carbohydrate or liquid consumption during the marathon. You will likely find the two strategies will take care of it!

Even if you aren’t running marathons, you can still find joy in running!

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