Catharsis on the Trail

» April 21st, 2013

The role of diet in my running transformation is a theme I’ve visited often here at Eating Plants. The physical and emotional empowerment that comes through food reminds us that so much personal improvement is literally right at our fingertips. Since starting to eat a nutrient-dense vegan diet my long distance running–as well as recovery from all strenuous distance runs–has gone from dreadful to nothing short of astounding.

This morning I ran a very technical and hilly 30K trail race just outside of Austin. ┬áBeforehand I ate a piece of wheat toast with avocado and nutritional yeast. The day before I ate a great deal of quinoa and arugula and pumpkin seeds. Soon afterwards, I ate upwards of six vegan breakfast tacos stuffed with spinach, black beans, tofu, and salsa; two smoothies with bananas, blueberries, almond milk, hemp seeds, and cocoa; a cup of homemade granola; a bunch of nuts, a carrot, and some dulse. I was starving. But as I write, there’s no stiffness in my legs, no fatigue in my joints. No dehydration ache in my head. (Although my feet are pretty banged up.)

Feeling energized on this run was especially important. I’ve been trying all week to make sense of the events in Boston. They touched a raw nerve for me because marathoning—as well as trail races such as the one I did today—are events where everyone there is there to be good. It’s a simple truth. The bombing at the finish, and the violence of the aftermath, left a black mark on my most sacred of physical and emotional places: the finish line of a marathon. All week I kept having to stop what I was doing and react with one emotion or another, or a weird sort of amalgam of many feelings. The communal run today was my catharsis. My catharsis was made possible by my energy and attitude. My energy and attitude were made possible by plant-based foods full of stuff that helps make us become better and better at seeking the goodness that’s in all of us.

6 Responses to Catharsis on the Trail

  1. 1848 says:

    There is such truth in the phrase, “You are what you eat.”

    Your writings on running are very interesting. I’m a casual runner. Though I’m active in other ways, reading about what running means to you makes me want to get more serious about it myself. Onwards.

  2. Sharky says:

    Michael Arnstein, an accomplished ultrarunner, has an amazing ability to recover quickly from arduous runs of 100 miles or longer, and he attributes this to his fruitarian diet. There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but eating plants is an excellent way to fuel long-distance running, as you’ve discovered.

  3. Ellen K says:

    Greetings from just west of Boston, and from another endurance athlete just back herself from a 2-hr training session, which was 1) cathartic as usual on a beautiful stretch of river curving through nature preserve, and 2) fueled on almost exactly the same menu you describe.
    We will be here to feed you and cheer for you louder than ever next year!

  4. Nick Pokoluk says:

    But how did your intestines hold up after all that fiber? Yikes I not been able to be away from the bathroom.

    • James says:

      The run was in the woods, man. Really, though, it’s a good question, easily answered. My diet fosters a very predicable sort of regularity that allows me take care of essential business before hitting the trial. Every runner has had an emergency or two, but mine are mercifully rare. I run with a large group and have noticed that it’s the heavy meat eaters who tend to have intestinal issues during endurance runs. At the risk of providing way too much information, or embarrassing my friends, I’ll leave it at that.

      • Mountain says:

        Hey James,

        Look out for that wheat toast, it could contain wheat germ. I read somewhere that wheat germ contains “an artery-clogger called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). So convincing is the connection that TMAO is said to be more predictive of future heart problems than cholesterol levels and triglycerides. “

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