Our bodies are built for greatness. We are all born with bones that make up our structure, muscles that allow us to move, and lungs that power our breath. Every cell is geared toward supporting us in whatever situation we might encounter. In short, the human body is made for movement and athleticism. Specifically, we are built to run.
I first encountered running when I was a junior in high school. Sure, I’d run a couple miles every now and then, but I never did it seriously until I joined my high school’s cross country team. Now, let’s be real here; I wasn’t very good. My 5k time was dismal at best (I think I PR’d (my personal record) at around 23 minutes). To give myself some credit, I acknowledge that most people can’t run a 5k period. But, compared to the average high-school age cross-country runner, I wasn’t very talented. I also hated racing. I still think that there is nothing more painful than racing a 5k; it’s basically 3.1 miles of total hell!
Now, let me get a few things straight. Yes, I wasn’t very fast and I didn’t enjoy the races. But I didn’t do cross-country to win, and I didn’t do it to compete. I did cross-country because I fundamentally fell in love with the sport of running, and that love would only continue to grow as my involvement in all things running progressed.
Flash-forward to sophomore year of college, and running comes second only to my schoolwork. I am a running tour guide for City Running Tours, I sign up for just about every race I can, and I run for Team Mile High Run Club, a local NYC running group. Additionally, in the time that I was preparing to write this article, I learned that I secured one of the few coveted charity spots available for the 2020 London Marathon.
In order to train for all of these events, I run five times a week and cross-train the other two days. As much as I love it, this volume of running takes a serious toll on my body. In order to lead a well-rounded life in terms of balancing my schoolwork, my social life, my running, and of course my mental health, I have to make sure I’m doing everything I can to recover fully and properly from my training. One of the most important elements of proper recovery is eating well. It is imperative that runners replenish all the nutrients they lost during the run, and maintain a caloric number that suits their body and activity level.
This is where Shalane Flanagan comes in. Shalane Flanagan is a professional long-distance runner and Olympic medal holder. She won the 2017 New York City Marathon, and, before her retirement in October 2019, was a member of Nike’s prestigious Bowerman Track Club. Along with her college teammate, Elyse Kopecky, Shalane is also the author of the cookbook Run Fast. Eat Slow, as well as its sequel, Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. Run Fast. Eat Slow. was inspired by the numerous diet misconceptions among runners, especially female runners.
Many endurance athletes develop eating disorders due to high levels of pressure to meet their “race weight," or avoid foods that are high in fat and carbohydrates. In fact, in Run Fast. Eat Slow., Shalane states that an estimated “20 percent of active women and up to 45 percent of female competitive runners suffer from athletic amenorrhea, which can lead to bone loss and fertility issues." Athletic amenorrhea is the absence of a period due to over-exercising and becoming extremely lean without proper calorie-intake. Our society is plagued with messages telling women we need to lose weight, count calories, and eat more protein than carbs and fat. Thus, it is all too common for athletes to obsess over what we put in our bodies, and monitor our weight to an unhealthy degree.
Run Fast. Eat Slow. breaks down these negative messages, and advocates eating real food that is nutrient-dense, and actually nourishes our bodies. None of Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky’s recipes deprive us of anything: they are full of whole foods that contain carbs, fat, and calories, which is exactly what our bodies need and want. The recipes are designed to help the body refuel to its highest capacity, so that it can perform at its best level. I decided to spend two weeks only eating dinners from Run Fast. Eat Slow. I only made five recipes since I was only cooking for myself and had a lot of leftovers. Now, I don’t know whether or not Shalane Flanagan is actually magical, but I’ll preface my account of those two weeks by saying that I had more running success then than in my entire life.
On my first night of cooking a dinner from Run Fast. Eat Slow, I made Shalane’s breakfast meets dinner bowls. These consisted of black beans and brown rice (to which I added sautéed cherry tomatoes and zucchini for an added vitamin boost), cooked spinach, and two fried eggs. I cooked the eggs in olive oil, which Shalane suggests because it’s rich in flavor and good-for-you fats. I topped off my bowl with guacamole and salsa.
I found the breakfast meets dinner bowl to be filling and thoroughly satisfying. It was incredibly easy to make (it came together in under 15 minutes), and the creaminess of the egg yolk that oozed throughout the dish gave it a hint of lusciousness. For my run the next day, I shadowed another running tour guide on his Brooklyn Bridge Tour.
It was very rainy and dreary in the city on my second night of cooking like Shalane, so I made her hearty beef and lentil minestrone soup. Like the breakfast meets dinner bowl, the minestrone was very quick and easy, and was absolutely packed with veggies like carrots, onion, and kale. I enjoyed the addition of the lentils, which provided an added protein source other than the beef. Although I enjoyed this soup, it was my least favorite dinner that I made from Run Fast. Eat Slow. However, it did not disappoint in terms of properly fueling me for a tough run. The next morning, I did nine miles that included a 15-minute warmup, 20 minutes at marathon pace, 20 minutes at half-marathon pace, and three times three minutes at 10k pace with 90 seconds of active recovery between each repetition. After eating the beef and lentil minestrone, I found my endurance did not wane at all over the course of this very long workout.
The third dinner I made from Run Fast. Eat Slow was the spinach and sausage frittata. Let me tell you, that frittata was heavenly. It was the perfect combination of the salty and slightly sweet Italian sausage, with the savory herbs in the fluffy egg mixture, and then the tangy bite of Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. Plus, Shalane sneaks in a vegetable serving with the addition of the spinach. I found this frittata to be wonderfully rich and indulgent, and absolutely packed with the protein and fat I needed to crush my eight miles and 40-minute tempo the following morning.
At this point in my two-week cooking adventure, I competed in the Staten Island Half Marathon, and brought home a six-minute personal best of 1:45:19. Thank you, Shalane Flanagan!
Of course, I needed to recover properly from my half-marathon, so I turned to none other than Run Fast. Eat Slow. to help me replenish the nutrients I had lost during the race. It was time for some sweet potato chickpea fritters! These yummy fritters are full of plant-based protein, and I was shocked at how flavorful they were. In fact, this was my favorite recipe that I made. The fritters were so easy (I simply mashed a sweet potato with a can of chickpeas, added a bit of onion and seasoning, and, boom, ready for frying!). They were immensely indulgent and satisfying because they’re cooked in coconut oil, so they have a slightly nutty flavor that adds a lot of depth and substance. I loved how crispy the outsides got, while the insides stayed moist and rich. Shalane suggests serving these fritters as appetizers, but I made them for dinner alongside beans and rice and topped with homemade guacamole.
The night I made the sweet potato chickpea fritters, I interviewed with the pediatric cancer charity, Endure to Cure, for a spot on their 2020 London Marathon team. The London Marathon is perhaps the most difficult marathon to get into, and my hopes were low. I had already failed in the lottery (half a million people entered for about 17,000 spots), and I was denied from seemingly every charity position. However, I had a wonderful conversation with Endure to Cure, who had two spots left on their team and many applicants. I told them how much I wanted to run the marathon, and assured them I would be an asset to their team. They offered me one of the positions right there on the phone. I think it's that Shalane Flanagan magic.
Sadly, the time came for me to make the last meal of my two-week experiment with Run Fast. Eat Slow. I decided to make Fartlek Chili, which I thought was fitting because fartleks are one of my favorite running workouts. A fartlek is an interval that is done at a specific speed with equal amount of recovery. For example, you might run one minute at 5k pace five times with one minute of rest between every repetition.
Like all the recipes I made from Run Fast. Eat Slow., the fartlek chili was almost too easy to make! I simply browned some 85% lean ground beef with onions, carrots, and a bell pepper, added some diced tomatoes and chicken stock, seasoned the whole thing, and let it simmer. When it was time to eat, I topped it with sliced avocado, cheese, and plain greek yogurt. I invited my friend, Helena, to eat with me, and she had nothing but positive reviews. In fact, she said I should add it to my regular line-up!
Since the Fartlek Chili was the last dinner in my two-week trial, I needed the perfect workout to go along with it, so I led a wonderful 10-mile running tour for two amazing clients. I took them from Battery Park to Brooklyn, and all the way through Manhattan to Central Park. It was the perfect way to celebrate running, and to share my love of the sport with people who enjoy it as much as I do.
Since the two weeks are up, it’s time for me to give my honest feedback of Run Fast. Eat Slow. My conclusion? I only have positive things to say about it. I truly loved every recipe I tried. They were all so easy, nourishing, and delicious. I felt like I was getting all the nutrients my body needed to perform well, but I didn’t have to sacrifice flavor or substance at all. I was shocked to discover that I was actually starting to run stronger. Throughout the past two weeks, my legs felt less tired, my mind stayed alert, and I was clocking faster times, even when I wasn’t giving larger efforts. I think all athletes can take a lesson from Shalane Flanagan and stop obsessing over what we put in our bodies, stop depriving ourselves, and simply enjoy eating good, wholesome foods. As Shalane says in her guided run with Nike Global Head Coach, Chris Bennett, we need to stop counting calories and start counting miles.