Who am I?
I’m Marian Nanney, and I’m a vegan athlete living in Columbia, South Carolina USA.
How did I become a Plant-Powered Runner?
The short version:
I was athletic first and vegan second.
The long version:
I was not athletic growing up. In school, I dressed out so that I wouldn’t flunk PE, and in college I went back and forth between using the Stairmaster and stationary bike at the gym and jogging up to 2.5 miles at a time on campus or in my neighborhood when I was home for the summer. Back then, whatever added up to 30 minutes of exercise at a time was good enough for me. I liked the jogging, but I didn’t have a lot of stamina at first. I gradually started working out more in my twenties, including running on a treadmill daily after work, until another gym regular said in 2003 that I should run competitively. “For all the time you spent on the treadmill,” she said, “you may as well experience the thrill of crossing a finish line.” I went with her suggestion and ran my first road race (The Heart and Sole Women’s 5 Miler), didn’t do as well as I’d hoped and abandoned racing until I decided to give this same race another try in 2005. “Try” I did, and I ended up winning my very first athletic award (3rd in my age group) at age 29!
Fast-forward another year and 7 months of heavy-duty training to December 2006, and I’m crossing my first marathon finish line with a Boston qualifying time of 3:24!
All this time I was still eating meat, although I noticed a pattern of feeling better on Saturday long runs and race days if I avoided meat, sweets and beer the night before. Sugar and alcohol are both dehydrating and can cause side cramps during strenuous activity, and any animal flesh just seemed to sit on my stomach like a rock, impeding my performance and making me feel generally crappy during the run. So, I learned to avoid them if I had a long run or running workout planned. As my training became more strenuous starting in 2006, I found myself avoiding those things more and more until meatless and even vegan days were common (but still not a hard-and-fast rule).
The turning point came on New Year’s Day 2011, which I rang in with a case of food poisoning (the second within the past year) from eating a questionable meat product at a New Year’s party. I had already grown tired of being served or settling for meat when I didn’t want it due to limited vegetarian options wherever I happened to be, so when the sun set on January 1, 2011 and I was finally ready to eat something, something just clicked and I realized that I was done with meat for good.
Something similar happened when I went vegan in 2012: I had already participated in the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart and had grown tired throughout 2011 of being served up plates of food smothered in melted cheese and cream sauce that I really didn’t want, this time for lack of vegan options. (Side note: If you think you “can’t” go vegan because you like cheese too much, well…you may be right, but that’s a separate issue from thinking, also incorrectly, that the vegan diet won’t sustain an active lifestyle.)
And let me be clear: Although I feel better about the fact that animals are no longer dying to keep me overfed, that’s not the reason I went vegetarian or vegan. It was really all about health, especially after hearing about and later reading The China Study, and about how much better running felt when I didn’t have any of that crap in my system.
If you’re a competitive athlete who is interested in going plant-based but aren’t sure if you will still be able to compete, then let me assure you that you can do both! I’m living proof, and so are pro athletes like ultramarathoner Scott Jurek and all the others listed here.
The fact is, there is plenty of protein, iron and calcium in the plant world. The theory that only animal products provide “complete protein” (i.e. all the essential amino acids) was disproven long ago. Likewise with calcium, iron and vitamin B-12.
Getting these nutrients from animals does NOT make you a faster runner, and removing them from your diet will NOT slow you down. Training harder and knowing how to cross-train, rest and recover and fuel up properly are what make you a faster runner.
As one of my road-racing coaches used to say: “If you want to run faster, you have to run faster.”
So if you’re wanting to take the leap but aren’t sure the vegan diet will support your active lifestyle, fear not! I’ve put together a free guide to sources of vegan protein with information on how to prepare them. Just enter your name and email address into the pop-up to get yours today!
And if you have by specific questions that I might be able to help you with, please shoot me an email at email@example.com
Best of luck to you on your plant-powered journey!
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