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.


My Favorite Vegan Pancakes and Waffles

At any given moment, our freezer has no less than three different varieties of pancakes and an assortment of waffles.  If I’m going to go to the effort of making pancakes (not really that much effort, but still), I want lots of extras for quick breakfasts on busy mornings.

I have so many favorite recipes for no-egg, no-dairy waffles, that to share just one wouldn’t be fair.

And to be honest, I’ve found so many recipes that work so well, that I haven’t bothered to even change them up much.  So here’s a roundup of my favorites:

Hannah Kirshner’s Best Ever (Vegan) Waffles:

Hanna’s Kirshner’s Best Ever Waffles. Accidentally vegan, delicious on purpose.  From Food52.

When Food52 calls something the “Best Ever (Vegan) Waffles,” you’ve gotta try it.  Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, they are exactly what you want in a waffle, vegan or not.  And they are full of protein (if you’re into that sort of thing!).  I half the oil called for and they still turn out great.

Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes:

Fluffy, tropical pancakes with grilled pineapple rings in the center.

Chocolate Covered Katie is the girl to follow if you have a sweet tooth, but are still trying to (pretend) that you are eating healthy.  Our kids love these pancakes and I love how the sugar in the pineapples caramelizes into a deep brown color.  Pretty sure that Katie is still single because her recipes are typically only enough for one normal person or two people who’ve already eaten something else.  I quadruple her recipe.

Apple Cinnamon Waffles:

Can’t you almost smell how good these are?

My notes next to this one in my recipe book say, “*AMAZING! NO SUBS!” so suffice it to say, it’s a hit in our house.  (Almost everything that I’ve made from Minimalist Baker turns out this well, so I’m not surprised. ) Soft, buttery, sauteed apples drench crispy cinnamon waffles.  Don’t wait until fall to make these!

Vegan Coconut Milk Waffles:

Vegan Waffle

These coconut milk waffles remind me of funnel cake from the county fair.  And it’s oil-free!  The original recipe is deliciously sweet (the recipe is from The Art of Dessert, after all!), so I typically half the sugar.  Even my traditional-waffle-loving husband likes this simple recipe!

Brownie Batter Pancakes:

I promise it’s healthier than it looks, but you don’t have to tell anyone!

Chocolate Covered Katie does it again with a decadent but healthy, teeny tiny single-girl recipe.  To say my kids love this one would be an understatement.  We sprinkle these with a touch of powdered sugar and then hose off their chocolatey faces in the back yard.

These are just some of my favorites, but I’m always adding to my collection!

What about you?  Do you have a favorite breakfast recipe?


Healthy Banana Blueberry Muffins, Vegan

I have a confession to make.

I am a banana hoarder.

Whenever I see those bulk bags of overripe bananas on supersale for $1.99, I usually shamelessly buy every bag available.

One time I bought four bags.  And they usually contain about 15 bananas each.

What on earth would I do with 60 bananas?


First of all, I eat them.  Many times those bags are not only filled with ripe bananas, but lonely singletons that have been separated from their bunches.  Lonely bananas need love too!

Then what we can’t eat, I peel and freeze for smoothies.  We have a deep freezer and I have several gallon Ziplocks of frozen bananas on hand at all times.

But there’s a point when there’s just too many frozen bananas to justify buying more discount bananas.  So I bake with them.

Ripe mashed bananas are a vegan staple that adds sweetness, moisture, and flavor to many baked goods.  It also works as a fat substitute in some recipes, like banana bread.

I prefer banana muffins to banana bread, because they are less messy and perfectly portioned.  They freeze well and I have a quick, healthy breakfast for me or the kids in seconds.  So I always make a double batch.


Making traditional banana muffins healthy and vegan is simple.  Applesauce replaces the oil or butter and aquafaba replaces the eggs.

If you haven’t heard of aquafaba yet, there is a whole world out there for you to explore.  It is simply the liquid drained off a can of chickpeas or the thickened cooking water if you make them at home like I do.  Three tablespoons of aquafaba is equal to an egg in baked goods and I freeze it in 3 tablespoon servings in large ice cube trays so that I always have an “egg” on hand.

Blueberries and bananas play so nicely together that I had to add some in as well.

With a little smear of almond butter, these muffins make the perfect easy breakfast!

Serves 12

Healthy Banana Blueberry Muffins, Vegan

Healthy, delicious, blueberry banana muffins.

15 minPrep Time

30 minCook Time

45 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons aquafaba (liquid drained from a can of chickpeas)
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 3 large, ripe bananas
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour (may use all-purpose)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 12 muffin pan or use silicone.
  2. Mash bananas in a bowl then add applesauce, sugar, vanilla, aquafaba, and almond milk and mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl add the rest of the dry ingredients (except blueberries) and mix well.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combine, but do not over mix. Your batter should be like very thick cake batter, not pourable, but spoonable. Add extra almond milk if too dry.
  5. Gently fold in blueberries.
  6. Using two spoons, fill muffin pans completely full.
  7. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden on top and a toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Cool in pan for at least 10 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.
Cuisine: Breakfast |


Yesterday was the longest long run of this marathon cycle training for the Richmond Marathon on November 12.  Twenty-two miles.  That capped off my biggest volume week at just over 82 miles.

I’ve run 80 miles per week in both of my last two marathons, but this was the best so far.  I feel strong and fresh as opposed to being sore and tired.  It’s a good sign.

This particular long run was not yet another Long Slow Distance.  It was a quality workout that had over 8 miles at or faster than marathon pace.  After 10 miles of easy running (in the 8 to 8:30/mile range), I had 8 surges of 90 seconds each at 6:30 pace, with 5-minute “floats” of marathon pace (goal is 6:52) in between, finishing the rest of the run easy.  The goal of this workout is to simulate the pace changes you might have in a race and to keep you running fast when tired.  It is also a great indicator of marathon readiness; if you can nail the floats at goal, you’ve got a great goal.

I’m proud to say I executed this one perfectly.  My surges averaged out to be 6:26 and my floats 6:51.  Right on the money.  More than any other workout so far, this one that combines length with speed tells me a lot about my fitness and the possibility of achieving my goal.

But it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion. Am I really #richmondready?

Renowned marathon coach Greg McMillian, famous for his running calculators, wrote an article for Competitor Magazine that just happened to pop up on my feed after my run yesterday.  It’s called “Six Key Factors to Achieving Your Marathon Goal.”

Would I pass McMillan’s test?  Let’s see.

 1. Stable mileage?  Check.  After a summer mostly staying in the 50 mpw zone, I gradually moved up to the sixties during August, up to the seventies for five weeks through Septmeber, and just crossed over to 80.  I like big mileage and can handle it because the majority of my running is very easy.

2.  Long Runs? Check.  Yesterday’s 22-miler was great and I’ve had two other 20s and two 18s.  One of the twenties was not quite up to speed, but it was only a few seconds off.  “Successful marathoners are usually the ones that not only get in the long, steady runs,” McMillan writes, “but they’re the ones that recover well in the few days that follow.”  I feel zero soreness today, which I’m extra happy about.

3.  Grooving Goal Pace?  Check.  The nice thing about running those faster strides is that in comparison, goal pace felt much more under control.  I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, but it’s comfortably hard.

4.  Leg Durability?  Check.  I haven’t felt leg soreness in a very long time.  This is a huge difference from past marathon cycles.  It certainly helps that I’ve eliminated the high-intensity strength training, in favor of simpler body-weight routines.


5.  Fueling?  Check.  I’ve been really happy with my homemade gels.  No tummy issues and they go down smoothly and easily with a lot less water.  My caffeinated Salted Peanut Butter with a touch of protein was perfect for the back half of yesterday’s workout.  The Lemon Cream Pie will also be with me in Richmond.


6.  Mental Toughness?  Check.  I earned this one at Boston this year.  Toughing out a PR in less-than-ideal conditions was the hardest race I’ve had.  I think I’m even better prepared now.

Barely lifting my feet up on Boylston
Barely lifting my feet up on Boylston

My score: Six out of six!

There’s is still a little over a month to go before the race.  I’ve got a tune-up half marathon along the French Broad River on October 22, which will be another good test of my fitness.

But the big miles are now behind me and I see big breakthroughs ahead.


*top photo of the James River in Richmond, VA courtesy of


Let Me Be Specific

It seems so obvious when you think about it:  train for your race by mimicking what you will face on race day.  For 800 meter runners, that means a lot of time on the track running (you guessed it) 800s.  But for all but a very few elites, marathoners don’t run the full marathon distance in training because it’s more damaging to your body than productive.  And on the other end of the spectrum, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bust out short sprints on the track in the middle of marathon training.  Speed is important, but weekly doses of super-quick, intense track workouts aren’t developing the systems that you use during a marathon.

We need to get specific.

I’m 8 weeks away from my race and this week I had two marathon-specific workouts.  Tuesday was a hill to tempo and Thursday was a basic tempo and I am happy to say I nailed them both.  Here are the basics of each and what they are designed to do.

Hill to Tempo

After a 3 mile warm up, I found a nice hill and sprinted up it six times for 90 seconds and jogged back down.  The effort is supposed to be about mile pace, but pace is not helpful at all determining speed on hills.  So I didn’t look at my pace at all, just clicked the lap button and raced uphill as fast as I could.  Ninety seconds is an eternity when you are going all out!  I quickly learned that my high-knee, on-my-toes sprint fizzles after about 15-20 seconds, making hauling my body uphill so much harder for the last miserable minute.  So I cut that nonsense out and used my regular stride as fast as I could and I actually got faster with each interval.  It seems that the “don’t go out too fast” warning applies universally to all distances.

After the hills were done, I took a three-minute rest and water break and headed down to the park for the tempo part of the workout.  The idea behind this is that the hills tire you out and strengthen your legs at the same time, making the tempo effort harder, as if it were late in the race.  The plan called for 4 miles between 6:50 and 6:55 and I stayed in that box, even cranking out a 6:36 last mile! (What?!)  I finished with a 2 mile cool down and a happy dance.

Basic Tempo

Tempo runs are some of my favorite runs.  I like to get into a groove and just lock my pace.  The idea behind tempos is to run “comfortably hard,” or even “hard, but controlled.”  Some people say a tempo is the fastest pace you can sustain for an hour.  My schedule called for 6:50 to 7:00 pace, which is the pace I hope to sustain for three hours!  But the key to tempos is not to run it as hard as you can, but to stay right in the zone at your current fitness, not your goal fitness.  I knew not to start out too fast and my first mile was 7:01.  Then the rest of the miles just flowed: 6:40, 6:41, 6:47, 6:44, 6:51, and I pushed the last mile with a 6:38.  So technically, I ran this too fast, but I really felt fantastic.  Not that it was easy, but it was not hard.  I would say the hard end of medium pace.  I did pull out all the tricks with this one, drinking beet juice and caffeine 90 minutes ahead of time, and the weather was just a bit cooler than I was used to.  I know I got several more humbling workouts coming up, but this was a great confidence booster!

In a couple weeks, I have another marathon-specific workout, the 2×6.  After a warm up, I’ll run two sessions of six miles at 6:50-7:00 pace with a crazy-long 10 minute break in between.  The long break is meant to stiffen up your legs and break your flow so that the second set feels even harder than it should.  Again, this is another technique to mimic the challenges of race day without running the marathon distance.  I remember this one from my last training cycle and I pretty sure I did okay with it, so we’ll see.

While I’m sad to be missing Tuesday nights at the track with my running friends, I know the track is not where I need to be right now.  I’ll be logging lots of road miles in the next 8 weeks and the track will be right there where I left it.

Crawling My Way to Running Faster

The idea of functional movement seems to everywhere for me lately.  How can we move well through life?  As runners, we tend to move only in one direction:  forward.  It doesn’t matter if I can touch my toes or squat with my heels touching the ground.  Or does it?

Aaron Alexander is a physical and massage therapist and was being interviewed on a recent No Meat Athlete podcast.  He talked about all the ways we runners can integrate different movement techniques into our day to not only become better runners, but to feel better with every movement.  Little kids have perfect running form, yet somehow start to lose that around the time they enter school.  Too much desk time and not enough barefoot play time changes the way we move and subsequently the way we are able to move.  Luckily, we can change that.  Alexander’s website, has some great videos and tips for stretching, strengthening, and moving so that we can get the most out of our bodies no matter what our lifestyle.  He even has videos on how to sit better if you’re stuck at a desk all day.

One of the challenges he has clients do is to be able to squat with your heels touching the ground.  I tried it and I can only do it if my squat is really wide with my toes facing outwards.  With my feet straight ahead and shoulder-width apart, I’m probably a couple of inches off the ground.  When I was really into yoga before I started running, I could do a flat-footed downward dog, but I’m a long way from that now.  I asked my almost-7-year-old son to try it and he could do it with effortlessly.

So I’m going to work on this.  The way to begin is by placing a book under your heels and practicing 30 seconds a day.  Gradually, you can switch to a skinnier book until your heels can reach the floor.  Just doing it a few times trying to take a picture for this post was enough to improve some. I’ll get there.

Then yesterday in my strength class at the gym, our instructor decided to make us really move to work our legs.  We cleared the room of our weights and did walking lunges and squats forwards and backwards.  Then we put our hands on the ground and crawled without letting our knees touch and keeping our butts down.  Then the same movement laterally.  Then jumping squats across the room.  It was really tough, but great to actually move in a way our bodies once might have had we had not decided to sit in chairs all day.  And if I have to admit it, it was a little fun too!

Runners do not have to be flexible gymnasts to run well and some say it might even be detrimental.  Your muscles, tendons, and ligaments function as a spring which, if stretched too loosely, does not effectively propel you forward with a long stride length.  But being flexible within the full range of running motion is important to get all the length out of your legs possible.

And what is also important to remember (which I often forget), is that running is not absolutely everything.  Being able to move well for life is.

Hello New Shoes, Bye Bye Blues

“I put some new shoes on and suddenly everything’s right,” Paolo Nutini sings.  There’s just something about new shoes. This will be the pair that I love every step, I tell myself.  This will be the pair that make me feel light and free, yet cushion my entire foot just the right amount from impact.  This will be the pair that take me farther and faster than the others.  They are neon green hope held tight with bright turquoise laces.

I tried on about a half dozen of them in the running store, prancing through the racks of technical tees in an exaggerated jog, scrutinizing each step.  Too much forefoot squish in one.  Heels slipping out of another.  One pair I was set to dislike from the beginning because I’ve never liked anything from the entire brand, so of course I didn’t like them, even though they didn’t feel bad at all.

I’ve worn lots of different brands of shoes and seem to fall in and out of love each time.  For my first marathon, I wore minimalist Merrells.  (That was a mistake.)  Like so many people at that time, I had read Born to Run and was thoroughly convinced that next-to barefoot was the way to go. (It’s not.)

For my downhill marathon in Utah, I wore Altras.  Still considered relatively minimalist, the roomy, zero-drop (aka flat-footed) shoes worked well for me, despite the black toes I earned slamming my nails against the front of my shoes careening down the mountain.  But when I went to buy my next pair of those, I was disappointed that the model had changed a bit and the toe box roominess suddenly felt like clown shoe ridiculousness.

Big Cottonwood Marathon 2014 in Altras
Big Cottonwood Marathon 2014 in Altras

For marathons three and four, I was a Nike girl.  The Lunaracers were light and airy, but could handle a bit of pounding.  I can’t exactly say why I stopped wearing those.  From a vanity point of view, I have to say they are not the sexiest pair of kicks.  With a skinny toe box and a wide heel, they are the running version of a Weeble.  Or a bowling pin.  I decided to try something different.

Best shot at Chicago (2)

For easy and/or long runs, I have been wearing New Balance Fresh Foam in a couple of different versions for the past year or so. They are fairly light for a trainer and fit my feet well.  But for track and racing, I have fallen head over heels for Saucony’s Type A6.  My size 8s weigh an impossibly light 5 ounces and feel like next to nothing on my feet, yet provide just enough cushioning over the pavement.  I wore these for my last Boston and couldn’t have been happier with them.

795127_1078_0045 (2)

So when it came time to get another pair of trainers, it was Saucony for the win.  I went with the Kinvara 7.  I’m hoping they will give me many miles of happy feet for the start of my new marathon cycle (four months to go!).

And I’m also hoping that Paolo Nutini is right.


Way Upstate New York

What a difference 2000 feet makes!  That and a 15-hour drive north.  Running along Lake Ontario is a road runner’s dream.  Smooth and flat with a lake breeze and cloud cover–it will make anyone run a little faster.

After such a long day cooped up in the truck yesterday, being able to run felt so needed.  I didn’t have a length or pace in mind, but wanted to go a little harder than an easy run, but not quite a true tempo.  With the temperature about 15-20 degrees cooler than North Carolina, my legs felt light and my lungs easily settled into a rhythm.

The wonderfully-named Point Salubrious outside the town of Chaumont, NY has a beautiful 6.5 mile loop with lake views and interesting lake cottages.  So I parked in town about 3/4 of a mile away to get a total of eight.  My husband and son chose the same loop for their bike ride and it was fun to catch up with them after they stopped and admired a new friend’s boat.  A few minutes earlier, I saw my husband biking ahead of me and I hollered out to him.  He waved a bit cautiously and kept going.  I figured he must have been trying to catch up with our son around the bend, but then remembered he left wearing an orange shirt this morning.  This biker was wearing blue.  Oops.  He must have thought I was just a really friendly runner!


I’m looking forward to exploring more of the area on runs.  As long as I’m next to the water, I’m happy.  It’s such a gift to be able to run in a completely different environment than I’m used to.

Of course, this vacation is not about running.  I’ll still get them in, but it will also be nice to relax and be more connected to family and less connected to the internet.

And the Winner Is…Richmond!

It’s official.  I’ve got my goal race!  Today was the final day to register before the price increase, so I signed up for the Richmond Marathon, 135 days away on November 12.  (I’m a sucker for a deadline to save $10!)

It looks like a beautiful course along the James River.  Not too flat, but not too hilly either.  Hopefully, my family can join me and we can make a little trip out of it.

Here’s the course video:

Let the training begin!