This past year I trained for The Boston Marathon. To train for any marathon, you have to train mentally and physically, but training for The Boston Marathon-that’s another level of training mentally. It’s not something you just say you are going to do and do it. It takes determination, motivation, and commitment before any kind of physical training. The level of these things truly determines if you are going to wake up at 5 am to get a run in before work, wake up at 6 am on weekends to get a (very) long run in, while also committing to being present with your family and friends, loving and serving others well, no matter how tired or sore you may feel. In order to keep this mindset fueled, you HAVE to be fueled with the right foods.
As an avid runner and marathoner, previous training season diets did not give me the energy to do these things well. I would come home from long runs, eat (mostly carbs), sleep for a few hours, lay low for the rest of the day, and then eat again (mostly carbs). My thought process was, “I just ran 18 miles. I’m going to eat whatever I want” OR “I’m starving and could eat the first thing I see.”
Throughout this year, I have spent much of my time at Trinity- as a dietetic student and now as their Registered Dietitian. I quickly learned the science, research and truth behind a low carbohydrate high healthy fat diet and hopped right on board. I have seen disease reversal after disease reversal. I have seen weight loss that patients have never experienced before. I have seen energy levels higher than any other diet can give. I realized the same must be true for athletes. If people are exercising for the first time in their life after eating this way, then surely it is effective in those at higher levels of exercise.
Training. I decided I was going to take this lifestyle into my training regimen for the first time and stick to a strict low-carb high healthy fat diet, keeping my net carbs around 40 net carbs/day. I found myself waking up at 5am on weekdays ready to conquer a run. I was sleeping better, which also contributed to my increased energy. And not just energy before my runs, but during. I had more endurance and actually increased my training speed. My normal pace for marathon training is an average of 8-8.5 minutes per mile. My pace increased to an average pace of 7min. 15 seconds per mile, for almost every training run. Of course, I had days that I just didn’t feel like running, and those days I would attribute to my attitude. Yet, even on those days, I had the energy it took.
I anticipated my normal feeling of fogginess and extreme hunger around mile 16 and mile 20, based on previous experiences- but I never once felt it. I ended every long run feeling fueled and ready to spend the rest of my day being present. Sore and maybe in need of an ice bath, sure- but never exhausted and depleted.
My diet consisted of eggs, bacon, avocado, or almond flour waffles with mashed avocado for breakfast. For lunch, I stuck to turkey and cheese rolls ups or almond flour wraps with vegetables or leftover low-carb dinner from the night before. Snacks included vegetables, nuts, or a cheese stick. For dinner, I had low carb meals packed full of vegetables and healthy fats. Anything from zucchini noodles with chicken to bun-less grass-fed burgers to salmon and roasted vegetables to grass-fed steak with cauliflower mashed potatoes.
Race Weekend. Pre-race I did NOT have the traditional pasta dinner with breadsticks. Instead, I had wild-caught salmon with broccoli and a side salad. I slept better than I had ever slept before a race day. For race day morning, I had an almond butter packet, despite my race morning nerves. For the race. I stayed well hydrated throughout, enjoying every hydration station to ensure that I would not get dehydrated. Throughout the race, I felt bursts of energy, instead of dips. My mind was clear instead of foggy. I was in touch with my body’s functions and had awareness to take in the last half-mile, even speeding up when we turned onto Boylston Street to cross the finish line. When I reached my family after, their first comments were, “why do you not look or act like you just ran a marathon?” They had been there for the previous races and seen the fogginess and depletion my body had undergone. They were honestly just as taken back as I had been all training season. Post-race, I still felt fueled and like I had enough energy to enjoy the rest of the day. No nap for me. That night, we went to an after-party at Fenway Park, with concession stand food for dinner. Sauerkraut with Italian sausage was about the only option (it would have looked more like steak and vegetables had we gone to a restaurant). I didn’t feel those spikes of hunger after dinner, like I normally would with a high-carb post-race meal.
This race season was a season of growth in all aspects of my life. Eating healthy has always been a part of my lifestyle. However, I came to a stronger realization that food truly was created to fuel the body; so that we can use our gifts and abilities to the best of our ability, to better our health, to love and serve others, while giving glory in all things to the One who created us. It’s a way of living life well, for life.