My Vegan Marathon: How I Trained for NYC Marathon on a Vegan Diet

In this guest post, Peter Manley details his vegan marathon experience, as he began both his marathon training and his vegan diet just 12 weeks before his marathon experience!

Here’s his story:

* * * 

The title of this article may sound triumphant, warm, and fuzzy, but I want to start off by saying that my transition to a vegan diet (and eventually, lifestyle) was anything but that. 

I made a lot of errors, which I’ll detail in this article – as well as share with you guys the lessons I learned.

No, this isn’t one of those “eat vegan and become a superhero!” type of stories.

It’s an honest-to-God, real account of how I trained for a marathon on a vegan diet (with no prior experience in either field), and the ups and downs that came with that.

You see, my first couple weeks of eating a vegan diet were filled with tired days, weak running performance, and many stages of trial and error.

I felt like giving up and eating a big and juicy steak almost every other day.

However, the last few months of training before the marathon is where the real magic happened.

Before I get into giving you any tips, let me first explain the journey I embarked on in order to get to where I am today (as a fit, healthy, and energetic vegan runner).

My Vegan Marathon: How I Trained for NYC Marathon on a Vegan Diet 1

My First Marathon

Sure, I had run a couple of 5Ks, 10ks, and half marathons before, but never in my life did I think I would run a full marathon.

An entire 26.2 miles in one go?

Sure it would be a great personal challenge (to say the least), but it didn’t sound appealing in the slightest.

However, on February 27th of last year, my best friend Thomas brought up the New York City Marathon in conversation.

Thomas is a true runner in all of its definition, with many half marathon 1st or 2nd place titles to brag about. Well, for many years, he had been submitting his bid for entry into the NYC Marathon. It was a personal dream of his to run the race, but he hadn’t had any luck since trying.

On February 27th, he asked me to join him in applying to enter the 2018 NYC Marathon. He explained that we probably wouldn’t get selected anyway, but it was worth a shot. So I did.

That same night, I received an email that I had been selected.

Thomas, of course, did not, which was upsetting for him and equally upsetting for me.

I had no plans of running the race, but here I was.

I wish I could say that I went on to start training immediately, but the truth is that I didn’t.

I procrastinated.

Not only that but I literally procrastinated until late July, which only gave me about three full months to train.

What I did with my time before that, I have no idea.

My first rule of thumb for anyone trying to train for a marathon is this:

don’t procrastinate on training, especially if it’s for your first ever marathon.

My Vegan Marathon: How I Trained for NYC Marathon on a Vegan Diet 2

My Training Plan 

With only three months to really train, I had no time to lose. I decided that on August 1st, I would begin my training routine.

I checked out Marathon Handbook’s Marathon Training Plans page, and decided to string together my own plan to suit my lack of experience.

I borrowed from the 12-week marathon plan (designed for intermediate runners), and the 20-week beginner’s plan . . . deciding I’d build a Frankenstein plan somewhere between the two.

It ended up looking like this:

Monday: 20-45 minutes of jogging. No pace requirement, but the goal was to keep going without stopping to walk. This day was for building my endurance and establishing a good breathing pattern.

Tuesday: Rest, go for a bike ride, or perform calisthenics workout.

Wednesday: 25-30 minutes of HIIT running. I started a baseline of 30 seconds sprinting/60 seconds walking and slowly increased my sprint time while decreasing my walk time. Two weeks before the race, I was sprinting for 60 seconds, and walking for 15. This routine helped with lengthening my stride, cutting fat, and increasing my explosiveness.

Thursday: Rest.

Friday: 30-35 minute run. The goal of this run was to keep a consistent race pace without stopping to walk. More intense than Monday’s jog, this run helped me keep a healthy pace during my race.

Saturday: 5k timed run. This short and quick run was performed at a pace that’s slightly faster than my expected marathon pace. The goal of this run was to further improve my endurance while preparing for points in the marathon where I may want to speed up my pace for a longer duration of time (e.g. the last three miles of the race).

Sunday: Long 60-90 minute ramble. No pace requirement and no expectations except to keep my feet moving forward. This low-pressure run was for allowing me to enjoy my training while improving my ability to continue moving over a longer stretch of time.

My Vegan Marathon: How I Trained for NYC Marathon on a Vegan Diet 3

Enter Veganism

Around the same time that I developed the plan listed above, I also decided to adopt a vegan diet.

I had been toying with the idea of becoming vegan for quite some time, and I ultimately decided that I would start on the first of August as well.

And so I started both my running routine and my vegan diet on August 1st.

For the first few days, I felt completely fine.

No, I felt great.

I slept great, had a lot of energy all day, and saw great performance during my runs.

By the end of the first week, however, things changed.

Enter Veganism Fail

After only about a week of vegan eating, I hit a wall.

All of my boundless energy had been depleted, and I found myself dragging through the day.

Indeed, simply waking up and getting to work was a task, and I found myself relying on coffee to get me through the afternoon.

My runs were lacklustre as well.

What I realized was that my vegan eating was very poor.

Sure, I was avoiding eating all animal foods and products, but I was missing out on some important nutrients, including the macros like proteins and fats.

What I had done for the first week was literally eat a bunch of lettuce salad, steamed veggies, and occasional servings of rice.

As you might’ve guessed, this is no way to eat, and the body requires much more than I was providing it. And so I had to buckle down and plan.

My Vegan Marathon: How I Trained for NYC Marathon on a Vegan Diet 4

My (Revised) Vegan Marathon Diet Rules

I took stock at this point – if I was truly going to stick to a vegan diet, I would need to find one that would work for me, allowing me to continue my lifestyle and marathon training with minimal ill effects.

After scouring the internet, reading countless articles, and consulting with fellow vegan runners on social media, I gained a better understanding of what a healthy vegan diet should be.

My 5 Rules of Vegan Marathon Nutrition

I gradually refined my approach, and developed the following rules:

1. Nearly 60% of my calories were carbohydrates, which is perfect for runners. Carbs came in the form of starches (rice, potatoes, pasta, etc.), vegetables, and fruit. I ate vegetables without limit but ate fruit and starches in moderation.  

2. To eat more protein, I ate healthy portions of beans, tofu, kale, seeds, and nut butter. In addition, I took a vegan protein powder supplement as well.

3. For fats, I stuck to healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, coconut, and chia seeds.

4. Rather than restricting my diet, I ate whenever I was truly hungry, and ate until I was full. Since a vegan diet is naturally high in fiber and has a low caloric density, you can eat much fewer calories while still feeling full.

5. On top of healthy vegan foods, I also took (and continue to take) a vegan multivitamin and vegan omega-3 fatty acid supplements. These are not required, but I believe they have helped me perform at my best.

After I implemented these practices into my vegan diet, I saw a dramatic improvement in my mood, energy levels, sleep quality, and my running performance.

I gradually increased my distance while shortening my time week by week, which gave me even more confidence to keep on training and improving.

The rest of my training continued to be smooth and, for lack of better words, amazing.

I even enjoyed faster recovery periods after my runs.

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My Vegan New York Marathon

By the time race day came around, I was ready.

On the day of the race, I drank a lot of water and ate a big breakfast (consisting of a banana, peanut butter toast, a protein shake, and oatmeal).

I made my way to the starting line, waited for my wave to start, and then I was on my way.

I am now proud to say that I am officially an NYC Marathon finisher.

I felt strong and optimistic throughout most of the race (although I did manage to hit the wall – which is almost inevitable on 3 months of training), and completed with a time that was even better than I had imagined.

After experiencing great success with my training on a vegan diet, I have continued to enjoy a vegan diet and lifestyle to this day.

My Vegan Marathon: How I Trained for NYC Marathon on a Vegan Diet 6
Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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