Celebrating 1 year as a vegan athlete!

Today I am celebrating 365 days on a plant based diet.  I started this journey a year ago while living and working in Thailand. At the time, I was dealing with severe stomach pain that doctors couldn’t properly diagnose. So, I took matters into my own hands and started experimenting with my diet.

Having been vegetarian on and off for nearly a decade, having watched the documentary Earthlings, in addition to following my yoga instructor and mentor, Ali Kamenova’s lifestyle as a vegan, culminated in the decision to put myself through a vegan trial period.  I put in some solid research to ensure I’d cover everything I needed to be healthy and to sustain my active lifestyle. I started by taking the 30 Day Vegan Challenge.  Already a pretty healthy eater (I try to cut out all processed foods), the transition was rather easy. Thai dishes are spicy and heavy on seafood and pork. I had no problem cutting out the meat and adding more fruit, veggies, lentils and nuts to my diet. Thais typically aren’t big dairy eaters, so I had pretty much cut that out just because of the environment I was in (cheese is expensive in Thailand!). Within two weeks my stomach pain had subsided and I had more energy. Belly fat burned right off and my muscles toned instead of bulking up- due to combination of diet + yoga/pilates/running (for detailed info on the first months of the trial, read archived posts).

I was encouraged and inspired by visiting sites such as Meat Free Athlete,  Great Vegan Athletes,  Vegan Female Athletes (VFA did an interview of my transition to a plant based diet), as well as following outstanding vegan athletes such as Brendan Brazier , Scott Jurek, and Fiona Oakes– Oakes is currently the world record holder for 5 courses: The North Pole Marathon, The Antarctic Ice Marathon, the Ruska Marathon, The Dartmoor Vale Marathon and the Essex Championship Marathon at Halstead. She is also the fastest woman in the history of the world to run a marathon on all 7 continents in terms of the total number of hours taken- talk about inspiring!!

I started an Instagram account (veganrunningwarrior) in order to follow the vegan community to get recipe ideas, inspiration and support; I couldn’t believe how huge the global vegan movement is! I found so much support from the online community and it truly helped me stay on track. There’s a tremendous amount of resources out there for people wanting to transition to a vegan lifestyle. And with new vegan products being stocked regularly in supermarkets around the globe, it’s not difficult to find what you need.  I’ve found delicious recipes and now have so much variety in my daily meal plan. It’s important to note that anything can be veganized these days! I am not one to avidly search for mock meats like bacon or ham, but if that’s your thing, then you can find it. There’s even vegan scrambled eggs now. Almond and cashew cheese is my favorite. I no longer crave cheese and meat, in fact, the smell of raw meat makes my stomach churn- this coming from a girl who used to order her steak rare! I’m having so much fun planning meals, and I absolutely love feeling GOOD after I eat. Yes, occasionally I’ll chow down on a thick bean burger with a side of greasy fries, and then go for some cashew milk ice cream… but we all have our cheat days. 😉  The point I want to drive home is I feel great, am the healthiest I’ve ever been in terms of energy, weight, and getting the vitamins and nutrients I need. My iron levels are normal and… GASP… I am NOT protein deficient!

The most vital test for me was training for a marathon on a plant based diet. Truthfully, I had zero problems with it (in terms of diet), and in fact, found that I recovered faster from speed workouts and long runs. I also had more energy during the day.  I give tremendous credit to Brendan Brazier. I read his book Thrive, which really put me on track in terms of power foods I needed to fuel my body for long runs and most importantly, foods to help me recover.   I did end up with a bad groin strain a week before my marathon, but with the right foods, including a turmeric concoction to help with inflammation, I powered through the marathon with little pain and managed to finish in 3 hrs and 52 minutes. Not bad considering I only gave myself 3 months to train after 4 year hiatus from marathon running, and racing in general.

Overall, I am happy with my decision to go vegan and there’s no turning back. It feels both rewarding and satisfying to know that not only is going vegan having a positive impact on my mind and body, but also animals and the environment.  To look at the detrimental impact the meat and dairy industry has on the environment- look here.

My advice to anyone planning to go vegan is to do the research, stock up on cookbooks (don’t eat salad and rice and then quit because you deem veganism as “too hard”), reach out to the vegan community for support, and have ammo for the nay sayers.  Take it a day at a time. Set goals. Start out by cutting red meat, then poultry, then dairy, then seafood- like I did, but be sure to replace meat and dairy with tasty vegan alternatives! 

My plan now is to rebuild strength after a break from running. I’ve incorporated Pilates and high intensity interval training into my daily workout routine and will begin building running endurance over the summer.  I’m going off road for awhile by making the switch to trail running to give my legs a break from the roads.  Mainly, I’m simply embracing the joy of being fit and healthy!

Thanks for following dear readers!

Now I’m going to celebrate 1 year being vegan by treating myself to vegan blueberry ice cream!

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Peace.

VRW

 

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Mind Over Matter : Night before the Marathon

The Taipei Marathon start is in 7 hours. I can’t say I’m not feeling excited/relieved that it’s finally here; however, my stomach is a bundle of nerves due to an unforeseen injury I sustained a week ago. That’s right. ONE week before the marathon. I was 100% healthy up until that point.

Here’s what happened: last Sunday during my final long run, I felt my adductor muscles (groin area) tighten up and then get really sore. I had to cut my 13 mile run short as a result. Since Sunday, I have been trying to nurse my leg back to health as quickly as possible. I didn’t run, I iced the heck out of it, including shoving an ice pack up my skirt as I sat at my work desk; and I massaged Chinese herbal medicine (equivalent of tiger balm or icy/hot) into the muscle twice a day after a gentle hour of yoga/stretching. On Thursday, I went for a very slow 2 mile run to test the leg. It felt ok, a little tender, but nothing too bad. I took Friday off and simply did an hour of stretching. Today I went for a 4 mile run, and tried to push the pace I hoped to run for the marathon (7:45-8 min miles). My leg didn’t hurt during running, which is great; however, it felt a bit tender as I massaged it afterward. LUCKILY, my kinesio tape arrived in the mail today. I am not sure how much it will help, at the very least, maybe it will create a placebo effect.

Overall, I don’t feel that disappointed. If I have to drop out of the race, I will drop out as opposed to risking severe injury and needing to take a lot of time off for healing.  The point is that I will be on the starting line. I can only ask so much of my body.

Here’s to staying positive! Mind over matter, right folks?

 

-VRW

The Highs and Lows of Training

The Taipei Marathon is a mere three weeks away.  Although my training hasn’t gone exactly as planned, I am still looking forward to toeing the line, and turning on cruise control for 26.2 miles. My aim for this marathon, after all, is to run a consistent pace,  I am not looking to crush my PR of 3:17. 18 years of training and competitive racing has taught me to be PATIENT. As previously mentioned, I’ve basically taken a 4 year hiatus from running since embarking on a career that has taken me abroad, and since recovering from foot surgery. Future marathon goals include: re-qualifying for Boston and breaking 3 hours in the marathon- but that’s for another blog post…let’s focus on the present!

The point of this blog is to follow my training on a plant based diet. So far, I’ve felt great – fast recovery, plenty of energy, all the while maintaining a healthy weight.  Unfortunately, due to work schedule (excuses, excuses, I know!), I haven’t put in nearly enough weekly mileage. I finally cracked 40 miles last week, and now I’m getting ready to taper, so there’s no chance to go higher than that, which is ok, as I am trying to listen to my body and rest when I need it. Again, my focus is to be mindful during this race, run a consistent pace, and run the whole way through. I have yet to finish a marathon without walking some of it; even my PR of 3:17 resulted in a torturous survival shuffle the last several miles.

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Finishing second place for women in the 2010 Hyannis Marathon.

 

 

Here are some highs and lows of training over the last month.

LOWS

  1. Catching a terrible stomach virus: Due to this unexpected pestilence, I was forced to cut a 20 mile run 5 miles short and was bedridden for nearly a week. This was back in November, exactly when I should have had my hardest training week. What a setback!
  2. Buying the wrong shoes: Only in Asia do I have to shop in the men’s section when buying training shoes. Unfortunately, this resulted in purchasing a pair of Nikes that although comfy when tried on in the store, caused me terrible shin splits when I ran in them. As soon as I ditched those trainers for my old ones, the shin splints went away. Unfortunately, my bank account took a hit as those darn Nikes cost me nearly $100 USD.
  3. Training in a flat city: Taipei is surrounded by gorgeous mountains, but the city itself is rather flat. I’ve kept to the bike path close to my apartment as it’s what I’m familiar with at this point. Hills are hard to come by, so occasionally I’ll resort to running up the 37 flights of stairs to my apartment. Luckily the Taipei Marathon is a flat course!

 

HIGHS

  1. Training on a plant based diet of course!

    Yes, that’s me in the top left rockin’ swag from Meat free athlete!  Other pictures: weekly groceries which include staples like chia seeds, quinoa, legumes, nutritional flakes, and coconut water. I couldn’t resist throwing in a pic of a rather tasty vegan mud pie with graham cracker crust from Loving Hut; everyone deserves a reward after putting in hard work… I prefer my reward to be saturated in coconut whipped cream and chocolate.

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Vegan cupcakes, courtesy of Miantos! 

2.  Receiving my Vegan Runners shirt via Vegan Runners UK and taking part in their virtual race on World Vegan Day!

3. Running my FIRST race on a plant-based diet… and WINNING! I ran a non-elite Half Marathon in Taipei and placed first for women. The race took place on a blazing hot morning, but I hammered through it while proudly sporting my Vegan Runners jersey.

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4. Getting faster and stronger as a plant based runner: My speed is coming back, recovery faster, and most important of all- I am eating knowing that I am wreaking less havoc on our planet, sparing the lives of countless animals, and improving my health.

More to come as I finish my last 3 weeks of training!

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave questions/comments.

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Vegan Elite Marathoner and World Record Holder, Fioana Oakes

Fiona Oaks“Fiona Oakes is an animal sanctuary owner, ethical vegan for forty years, and elite marathon runner. Her sanctuary, Tower hill Stables Animal Sanctuary in the UK, cares for over four hundred animals, particularly farmed animals and horses. She currently holds three Guinness World Records for being the fastest woman
 to run a marathon at the North Pole, and fastest to run marathons in all seven continents in both days elapsed and combined running time.

Fiona Oakes, what a phenomenal woman! Not only has she run an impressive sub 2:40 (I think best is 2:38) in the marathon, but she has the World Record for running a marathon on EVERY CONTINENT in a little over 24 hours!  It blows my mind that someone like Fiona doesn’t get more coverage in mainstream media…. why not? Because she’s vegan? Because instead of training and running for the elite Nike, she spends her time and money taking care of the animals on her sanctuary? I can’t give Fiona enough praise… she’s my hero!  Read this great article on Fiona in Thrive. Check out her impressive stats in Great Vegan Athletes.

Here’s a snippet from Thrive’s interview with Fiona:

MP: “You are a legend. Why do you run?”

FO: “Simple, I run to illustrate what I truly believe in. I run to break down the myths and misconceptions, so often portrayed in the media and press, that a wholly plant-based diet is detrimental to not only sporting excellence and endurance, but general health too. I have always felt that actions speak much louder than words and are far more difficult to ignore or argue with, and getting out there and achieving things is proof positive of what I believe.”

Ah, beautifully said, Fiona!

Running strong on plants

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Yesterday, Sunday, was my long, slow distance day.  I logged 14 miles at a comfortable pace- around 9 minute miles.  This was my longest training run since 2011, post 2 surgeries and my first long run on a plant based diet. I was initially nervous that I’d have low energy due to attending an evening event the night before, and only making time to eat a slice of whole grain bread with peanut butter and banana, and slurping a cup of black coffee before the run. Luckily, that light meal pre-run was sufficient. I felt a tad stiff the first few miles, primarily because I had an intense butt and hamstring workout two days prior. Around mile 4 I got in the groove and just coasted effortlessly for the remaining 10.  I did give myself a quick stretch break around miles 7 and 10. Miles 11-14 I picked up pace a bit, hitting 8:35-8:40s, with a good uphill sprint to finish off mile 14.  I was elated by the finish, having expected to feel much worse.  The key is to listen to our bodies. There have been times when I had a hard workout scheduled, and discovered halfway through that my body wasn’t having it, so lightened up on the last half; on the flip side, I’ve gone into a workout feeling slow and stiff, but then after the warm up felt strong, so was able to push harder. I do not believe in pushing through immense soreness and fatigue. I was pushed to do so by former coaches, and I have since learned that my body can’t handle that. I prefer to push hard on days when my body is prepared for it. This is not to say that I am lazy about training, and take it easy if I feel a little tired from a long day of work, no, but being in tune with my body, knowing what it needs and what it can and can’t handle in the moment is vital to training and maintaining optimal health.

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Post-run recovery fluids usually consist of diluted orange juice, or coconut water (my #1 choice), or a pack of Emergen-C. Today I started sipping water on and off around mile 8. I found I didn’t need much as I had hydrated well before the run, and the heat wasn’t as intense today- a cool 73 degrees F!

One of my go-to recovery tools is “legs up the wall.”  My university cross-country coach swore by this technique, which is actually an inverted yoga pose. “When you put your legs up the wall with your pelvis elevated… lymph and other fluids that can lead to swollen ankles, tired knees, and congested pelvic organs flow into the lower belly; this refreshes the legs and the reproductive area. This pose also gives blood circulation a gentle boost toward the upper body and head, which creates a pleasant rebalancing after you have been standing or sitting for a long time. If you are stressed, fatigued, or jet-lagged, this pose is especially refreshing.” -yogajournal.com

I usually wait 20-30 min before eating after a long run, this is because after exercise my stomach doesn’t take food well sooner than that. I munched on a fresh, organic apple with salty cashew butter while I cooked up a mushroom patty and lightly sautéed some veggies to go on top. I rested the patty on a bed of mung bean sprouts and sprinkled some Daiya mozzarella cheese on top for more flavor + protein. The meal was delicious and filling!

Today, I feel great! What attributed to my recovery was 1. Proper hydration before, during and after run. 2. Fueling before the run- turns out that slice of bread, with banana and peanut butter was exactly what I needed, no less and no more. 3. Proper fueling post run. Again, getting essential vitamins, especially vitamin C, and protein.  4. The biggest contributor, in my opinion, was sufficient sleep- 8+ hours. I was able to sleep in today as I have the day off from work. Our office here in Taiwan recognizes U.S. holidays for its American employees. I’ve learned over the course of 18 years of running, that getting enough sleep and what we do in the recovery phase is almost as important, if not more, than the hard work we put in training.  If we are not taking care of ourselves in the resting phase (nutrition, hydration, sleep), then we are essentially throwing away our training, not to mention that failure to do any of what I mentioned can and will lead to injury, which has been my experience.

Later this evening I will take a 90 minute Bikram class to stretch out sore muscles, work on strength, balance and mindfulness. Having a healthy, focused, trained mind is a vital part of succeeding at anything, let alone endurance running. More on that later…

Namaste.

October is going to be an intense month of training for me.  I’ve found copious amounts of plant based training material out there, as it has been found to be inarguably ideal for high performing athletes.  I’ve been devouring all I can. Currently I am reading Brendan Brazier’s THRIVE. I think his guide to plant based nutrition for the endurance athlete will be pivotal in my training.

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Thanks for reading + following. Feel free to leave comments/questions!

MeNamaste, readers.

Veganrunningwarrior resurgence: back from my hiatus

Dear Readers:

Sorry for the lengthy silence between posts. A lot has happened these past few months, and truly I can’t believe how fast time flies.  Recap: I was working in Thailand up until last June. It was around the same time that I embarked on my journey of transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. I returned to my home in the States, for a glorious 20 days, wherein I had minor surgery, and recovered in the company of family and friends. It was a whirlwind, to say the least. End of July I was whisked away once again, propelling across the Pacific, to my new home base- Taipei, Taiwan, where I’ve begun a new contract. Now settled, I’ve set a goal of training for my 4th marathon, entirely on a plant based diet. Last week, I learned that I “won the marathon lottery,” so am officially signed up for the Taipei International Marathon on December 20th… just a little over 2 months to go!  In this update, I will tell/show you what I’ve been eating over the past 4 months, and how I’ve steadily increased strength, endurance and speed since recovering from surgery.   Thank you, as always, for reading, for being a witness to my journey as a vegan endurance athlete.

MeNamaste 

WHAT I’VE BEEN EATING: VEGANISM IS GOING MAINSTREAM! 

While home in the States, my mom and I tried our first all vegan restaurant during a brief trip to Brattleboro, Vermont. We tried Superfresh Cafe, a small, yet vibrant vegan restaurant and bakery, with a generous menu, situated right in the heart of downtown Brattleboro. Mom and I were sure to grab a table overlooking the Connecticut River.  The food was mouth watering; I could hardly get a breath between bites! There was so much flavor as appetizer and entrees were accompanied by tangy, zesty homemade dressings. We felt more than satisfied by the end as our stomachs happily absorbed the healthy nutrients from our plant based meal.

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Knowing I’d be spending the next few weeks home in Massachusetts, mom and I were eager to hit up our local grocery stores to see if we could find any vegananized dairy products. To our astonishment, Hannafords was well stocked with mock meats and cheeses, sour creams and cream cheese spreads, ice cream, pizza and more! Most “dairy” products were Daiya, which in my opinion is the best when it comes to mock dairy. You can’t even tell the difference between real mozzarella and Daiya.  Mom laughed as I was like a kid on Christmas morning running up and down the aisles filling our shopping cart. Needless to say, it was hard to come by such products in Thailand; this is not to say that it was difficult to be vegan in Thailand, as I had access to an abundance of exotic fruits and vegetables living in a small town, and added legumes and chia seeds for fiber, protein and omegas; however, I craved black bean burgers and mouth watering vegan desserts such as the ones I tried whilst visiting Bangkok.

Here are a few pictures of the beautiful spread of vegan products mom and I scored at Hannafords.

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I had a lot of fun experimenting in the kitchen:

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Once in Taipei, I was nervous that I’d run into a similar problem as Thailand- soups, dumplings and noodle dishes with animal flesh. To my pleasant surprise, Taiwan has deep Buddhist roots, so there are many vegetarian eateries, and it’s not difficult to veganize most things. There are also a handful of vegan restaurants/cafes!

Dark chocolate has become a staple in my kitchen, as well as different nuts and seeds.

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I must also mention two of the BEST vegan recipe books I’ve encountered thus far:

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Now, nicely settled in Taipei, I’ve begun the hunt for vegan eateries. I recently dined at Mianto , a vegan restaurant owned and operated by Michel, a vegan expat from South Africa. Her pizza is to die for! Home made with all fresh, organic, non-gmo ingredients! Her desserts are to die for, too.

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TRAINING

I’m off to a good start. I bought a Garmin Forerunner220 which has been amazing! The GPS is accurate, and I love how I can track milage, pace, cadence, routes, etc. and upload all activity on Garmin connect. I have even downloaded a marathon training program, but adapted it to suit my current fitness level. My milage is at a modest 25-30 miles a week, but I hope to have it around 50-55 by December. This Sunday I will attempt a 14 mile run, my longest training run in years. I am looking forward to it. I must admit my recovery has been much faster since switching to a plant based diet. I also have more energy throughout the day, but I still have a lot to learn in terms of what plant based foods are optimal to recover from those brutally long distance runs. I’ve been patient, and have tried to listen to my body. I have been doing less interval yoga, as my focus now is building endurance and working on speed. I do take a 90 minute Bikram yoga class every Monday evening to detox, stretch out sore muscles, and work on balance and mindfulness.

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Below is one of my favorite post long run recovery tricks- legs up on the wall:

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I must admit, my strength is incredible! I really feel great and hope to only get stronger.

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As I head into an intensive month of training, I am devouring Brendan Brazier’s THRIVE:

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I also just finished Will Travel for Vegan Food… a memior that follows the journey of a young woman who travels to 48 states in a van over the course of two years, dining at EVERY vegan restaurant in each and every State. Her journey is epic, and I highly recommend as it’s a quick, entertaining read. Not to mention I was drooling whenever she described what she was eating…

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From here on out I’ll do my best to post a weekly update with content centered on what I’m eating, how I’m training, and other vegan musings.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to ask questions or leave comments!

Overall, it feels great to be vegan…

on a vegan diet

Be kind and have courage- namaste.

Namaste.