Not Your Kids’ Summer Camp

I have loved camp since I was seven years old.

Campfires, shared meals with new friends, lots of time outdoors playing and exploring, are memories of camp that I think of fondly from my childhood.

Running camp for grown ups is just as good.  Maybe even better because there’s wine.

Chuck Irsak’s photo of ZAP before the campfire


Last year was my first experience with ZAP Fitness Running Camp with Runners Connect and I can truly say that it changed my life.

It was there that my coaching journey began, although I didn’t know it at the time.

It’s hard to believe that a year later, I returned to ZAP this time as a coach for Runners Connect.

Up to the Manor House


Many of the attendees from last year were able to return again this year, which made it seem even more like the summer camp I remember.

Camp friends become forever friends.

Andrea running on the beautiful trails in Blowing Rock, NC


I feel incredibly lucky that I get to run and geek out about running as a job.  Over the four-day weekend, in addition to lots of beautiful miles with some amazing people, I led exercises on goal setting and strength training and had several one-on-one personal coaching sessions.

I’m learning that it’s not always the technical running training advice that matters the most.  More often than not, the athlete already has many of the answers she is looking for and it is a joy to discover how to tease those answers out together.

As the weekend came to a close, there were hugs and exchanges of email addresses.

And just like the last day of summer camp as a kid, it was a bit sad for it all to end, but we knew we’d made memories and friends that are much bigger than a single weekend.

Just one day later, most of us are already looking forward to next year.











How to Train for a Marathon Fueled By Plants

One of my favorite parts of my job coaching at Runners Connect is stepping behind the mic to host a week of the Extra Kick Podcast each month.

We answer just one running or training questions per day in a short daily podcast. 

Normally, I don’t post what I talk about there on The Planted Runner, but today’s question was just too perfect not to.

And my answer might just surprise you!

Below is the full transcript.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read, click here and go to Episode 143.  Better yet, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and you can get the latest episodes daily!

Mary Kate sent in her question for the podcast by email:

 I’ve been considering trying out a vegan diet for a long time but hesitate as I’m afraid it will affect my running. Any tips on plant-based diets for runners? Should I make the transition during my marathon buildup or wait until I’m taking a break? Thanks!

Great question, Mary Kate, and this is something that is very near and dear to my heart as a 100% plant-based marathon runner myself.  Or maybe I should say it’s near and dear to my stomach!

Yes, you absolutely can become vegan during marathon training and it very well could affect your running–for the better.  But let’s be sure we are talking about the same thing here.

Vegan simply means that you choose not to consume or use any animal products.  This lifestyle can have health benefits, but animal welfare and/or environmental issues are the primary reasons behind the choice.

Being a vegan is defined by what you don’t eat, not what you do eat.

Which means that you can be entirely vegan and subsist on potato chips, margarine, and white bread.  Not exactly rocket fuel for a marathoner.

Now if you are talking about a 100% whole foods plant based diet, that also just so happens to be better for the planet and certainly better for the animals, then you are creating an eating pattern that focuses on what you do eat and has very little to do with what you don’t eat.  Big difference!

And despite whatever the most militant vegan, plant-based, whole foods advocate out there says, there is simply ZERO evidence that a 90% plant diet is healthier than a 100% plant diet.

Eating more plants is good for everyone and most certainly for your running, so focus on the rich variety of foods that you include on your plate (like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds), and less on the foods that you are trying to eliminate.

Most athletes are afraid of plant diets because they think that they won’t have enough fuel to run well.  This can happen to you as you transition to eating just plants, but it is very unlikely to be coming from the food you are eating.  It’s far more likely to happen because most people naturally eat fewer calories when they fill up on salad, black beans, and sweet potatoes and instead of cheese and bacon.

So the key to avoid under fueling is to eat more!  Sounds awesome, right?  For me, this is a huge benefit to eating this way.  I have a big appetite and I am much happier with a full belly than constantly trying to eat less.  Plants naturally are micro-nutrient dense, full of fiber, and with the exception of nuts, seeds, and oils, have fewer calories by volume than meat and dairy.  So you can eat a larger volume of food for fewer calories.

The flip side to that if you are someone who struggles to eat enough while training, you’ll need to be sure that your meals are filling and you eat often.  Liquids are great for cramming in a lot of nutrition and calories without your brain realizing it, so a veggie and fruit packed smoothie can be very helpful meeting your recovery needs quickly after a long run.

Once you tell the world that you are no longer eating meat and dairy, be prepared to answer the number one question you’ll face: where do you get your protein?

All whole, unprocessed plants have protein.  We eat food, not macronutrients.  Nuts, seeds, legumes and grains have lots of protein as well as soy products like tofu and tempeh.

And you don’t need to specifically combine proteins like rice and beans in the same meal to get all your amino acids as long as you are eating a variety throughout the day.

Without much thinking about it, you will naturally consume anywhere for 50-60% unprocessed carbohydrate, 10-20% healthy fats, and 10-20% protein a day, which is well within the US recommended daily allowances as well as what most sports nutritionists recommend for endurance athletes.

For reference, elite Kenyan athletes typically eat a mainly vegetarian diet with only meat a couple times a week and it’s reported that their diets are about 75% carbohydrate, so there’s something to be said for that!

Some examples of a typical whole plants breakfast is a bowl of steel cut or rolled oats mixed with non-dairy milk, fresh fruit, some chia or flax seeds.

A good snack would be fresh or dried fruit with a small handful of cashews or almonds.

Lunch could be a big salad with lots of veggies, avocado, chickpeas, tahini, and quinoa.

A banana with peanut butter on toast makes a good snack or breakfast and of course the standard veggies and hummus is a classic vegetarian snack for a good reason.

Dinner might be a veggie burrito or chili and cornbread, way too many choices to list here!

The point is when you fill your plate with plants, you are doing more for your body and your running, regardless of whether you choose to go 100% plant based or not.

I personally find it simpler to be a 100% herbivore because it helps me continually make better choices without as much temptation.  I’m definitely a black and white person, so going 100% makes the most sense for me.

One thing all vegans need is to supplement with is vitamin B12.  In fact, many meat eaters are short on this nutrient as well, but the sources in a plant-only diet are limited to a few fortified foods, so taking a chewable sublingual B12 pill once a day or once a week depending on dosage is essential.  But other than that, if you are eating your greens every day as well as all of the rest of the colors, you are most likely doing a great job getting everything your body needs.

Most people find that they recover better and have more energy when they eat this way.  I know I do.

I could go on all day on this subject, and I appreciate you sending in the question, Mary Kate.  And if you are interested in learning how you can improve your nutrition and your running and you have a question for one of the coaches, go to and record your question there.  We’d love to hear from you.


The Wind Strengthens the Tree Only After It Stops Blowing

I’ve just finished one of the heaviest training weeks I’ve had so far this marathon cycle:  just over 80 miles.  I’ve reached this barrier before while preparing for other marathons, so I’m not celebrating too much, but it’s time to take a step back.

Yes, instead of continuing to build the quality and quantity of my runs each and every week, I’m purposely cutting back for a week.

Research shows that intentionally dropping mileage for a week during the 10-12 week marathon specific period not only does not hurt your progress, but it leads to growth.

It seems so counterintuitive to build, step back, build, step back.  Our minds want progress to be linear.  We should simply build and grow in a nice smooth arching line upwards.

The logical way to build endurance should be like building a house out of Legos.  You start with the foundation, add some walls, then a roof, and you’re done.  One step after another.  Relentless forward progress until the house is built.

But that’s not how growth in living things work.

We are more like a tree in a windstorm.  As our tree sways back and forth in the wind of hard training, intense cellular damage is taking place in the trunk and in the branches.  The tree is being pushed farther than it is used to going so it stretches and bends and tears a little.

After the storm passes and the winds become calm, the tree repairs itself, builds stronger cell walls, and becomes even more resilient to withstand the next storm.

Yet, if the wind is unrelenting, blowing day in and day out, the tree has no chance to repair the damage and get stronger.

It will break.

So tomorrow I’ll skip my run and rest.  I don’t feel especially tired or worn out, but my long run today was not the quality run it should have been.

Missing splits is often a sign that you need to rest, instead of continuing to push and train harder.

How much should you drop down for an easy week?  Well, that’s a bit subjective.  Many experienced athletes many only need 10-20%, while those venturing into new territory of distance and/or intensity should probably aim closer to 30%.

I’m planning for about 20%.  Maybe I’ll take a bit more than that if I need it.

I admit that dropping that much when I know I can handle another 80 mile week hurts my ego a little.  It plays on my fears that I’m not doing absolutely everything I can to get better.

But ironically, there is a freedom in restraint.  I know that resting and cutting back on mileage is a training strategy for improvement, not a sign that I’m not fit enough or not working hard enough.

I’m simply taking some time to prepare for a hurricane.

So the Washington Post Called…

I was more than a little excited.

After listening to an episode of the Run to the Top Extra Kick Podcast about running after menopause (episode 116), a reporter called up for an interview!

Now, let’s be clear that I still have a loooong way to go (I hope!) before I reach that time in my life, but the majority of my athletes are in that age range and so many of them are simply rocking their health and fitness.  I’ve had to learn a lot on their different needs and perspectives and was happy to share what I’ve learned.

Click here to read the article!